Diagnosed with Stage 2A breast cancer in February, well-known wedding and events planner Preeti Vasudeva is now determined to help other women become aware of the disease. After many promising years successfully branching out her event planning business, Preeti Exclusive, Preeti was left to fight a new chapter of her life.
Below is Preeti’s story in her own words. Photos are courtesy of Nayeem Vohra.
In October 2014, while, in the shower, I felt something by my underarm that felt like a knot. I ignored it for a while thinking it was down to a busy season I was having. It wasn’t until January of this year that I was stretching and felt the pain of another lump on the same breast. I started to freak out, and I was convinced that the new lump was a tumor.
I had a two-day wait before my primary care appointment, and all I remember doing at that time was saying to myself,
‘Preeti, you have an appointment in a few days, don’t Google anything as you may not like the answer… Don’t freak out, it’s going to be a simple appointment, and all this will be behind you.’
During my appointment, it was mentioned that because of my age and family history, the lump might be nothing more than a cyst, and two days later I was scheduled in for a sonogram. I still remember what the technician said, something that will still stay with me forever,
‘If it hurts, that’s a good thing, cancer is a silent killer, that’s why some women don’t even know they have breast cancer.’
After the results from the sonogram, the doctor dismissed the cyst theory, and I was immediately sent for a mammogram, and that is when the real panic set in. I waited for 30 agonizing minutes for the results, only then to be told that I needed a biopsy to determine if it was or was not cancer.
February 3, 2015, is a day I will never forget. I remember my mom’s hand slowly getting weaker, holding mine from sheer shock, and my dad asking the doctor many questions.
I remember crying, in total disbelief, asking if it was my lifestyle of stress, or travel that could have caused this; my doctor very calmly said that cancer doesn’t discriminate, it’s a game of roulette.
It turned out that the lump that hurt, that triggered me to make the appointment, was benign, and the lump I ignored, was the tumor. Had it not been for the painful stretch, I would probably still have ignored the lump and been in complete denial, all while continuing a busy life.
Naturally as a business owner, the inevitable questions were racing through my mind, how would I fulfill my wedding contracts? What’s the backup plan if I can’t be there? How do I even tell the couples and vendors? Do I plan my treatment around the weddings or just give the events to someone else?
I’m always prepared for the unexpected at an event, but then I realized how poorly I was at preparing something so personal happening to me. I started to think, who would stay in my life and be by my side?
Who would fight with me and support me? Would it be people I expect or would I be surprised? We never know what we mean to people until our friendship, love and loyalty are tested.
After the initial shock wore off, I went into business mode; I was to become a planner for my life, not just for my clients.
Throughout my entire treatment process, my mantra has been:
‘It could be worse, it could have been worse.’
I did twelve weeks of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. I needed radiation because my sentinel node biopsy discovered that I had a lymph node affected, which meant as a precaution more options of treatment were needed. I also had surgery to have a port put into me to receive the chemotherapy drug, which is easier than through an IV.
During the weeks of chemotherapy treatment, most days I would be on bed rest in a lot of pain, fighting nausea, extremely tired, and physically burning up from heat within. I was also on steroids, which made me very bloated, and everything tasted like metal on top of the many restrictions on what I could eat or do.
When my radiation treatment started, the burns made it difficult for me to sleep and anything that area came into contact with felt like sandpaper. The swelling and extra weight was physically draining, but slowly I would regain some strength and energy, and by then, it was time for the next treatment.
The hardest part of treatment had to be the hair loss, and how quickly it started (within two weeks of first treatment). Hair is so valued in our culture, and we’re always surrounded by commercials and adverts of Indian women with long, volumouse, and shiny hair. I remember seeing some hair shed on a Thursday, and by Saturday, I was seeing clumps of my hair gathered in a knot. I was horrified seeing bald spots. That same day, I got my hair cut from my waist to my ears, but still there was very little I could do. By the next day, I woke up with my pillow now covered with shorter hair.
I made the decision that I was not going to watch my hair fall anymore, and my mom and I went wig shopping, bought a do rag and got a mundane; thankfully the shape of my head means I’m able to pull off the bald look. Sure, it made my ears look even bigger, but so was my smile.
I wanted to control my hair loss and after seeing it all fall, I realized, hair is just hair. Losing my hair has never stopped me from leaving the house or having visitors. I also only surrounded myself with those that would be comfortable with my hair loss because I’m certainly not going to be coy or apologetic about it. Slowly after that the hair from my lashes and eyebrows fell out, but I’ve tried to see the positive side of it all— free laser treatments!
I do, though remember the day I had my lowest moment. I just wanted to stay in bed and be numb with drugs to make the pain stop. Talking hurt, but I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I just wanted to lie in bed and have the day end as quickly as it could. I was crying uncontrollably, yet even that hurt. I didn’t know that my cousin sister-in-law were at the house, and she came into my room and I remember crying even harder. As she held my hand, she told me I was beautiful, but just not when I cried. Hearing that my tears stopped and laughter replaced them. I reminded myself that crying didn’t make me weak; it showed that I was alive and full of love for my family and friends.
My treatment process has been extremely hard and I’ve gone from a person who is very active, to someone in so much pain, unable to do the simplest things like walking down the stairs.
On some days I would laugh and say my summer is going by with no shaving required, yet on other days I would forget I don’t have hair, go to brush it and realize, ‘oh yeah, I have no hair,’ unable to recognize my reflection. On most days, I have embraced how I look, but on other days, I would go right back into bed and avoid a mirror.
On occasion, I go back and listen to the voice recordings I made of myself during scans, MRIs, and treatments. Just to hear the tone in my voice, whether it’s excitement, fear or nervousness, it reminds me how far I’ve come.
Friends and Family
My parents have been by my side at every appointment and treatment; my sister-in-law calls my mom the “Project Manager,” and my dad the “Operations Manager.” My mom did research on the best things to eat and how to make them while dad did all the grocery shopping. My family was like a well-oiled machine running a routine as best as we could.
My dad changed his schedule so that he was able to give me breakfast, then another family member would bring me lunch, and then my mom would be home by 5 p.m. — I can’t thank them enough. I have to thank my extended family too, and to say I have a big family is an understatement. We roll about 125 members deep all within a 30-mile radius, and everyone was ready to give their support.
Over time, my list of well-wishers has grown often sending quiet prayers and positive energy, and I’ve called these amazing souls “My Silent Army.”
I’m so grateful for the support shown by these individuals who have been with me the whole time. It’s the simple things like daily texts, funny memes or YouTube videos to make me laugh, the visits, and the gifts!
At one point, I had almost 35 bouquets of flowers, edible arrangements, and countless books! I also had gifts to ease my treatment like socks, eye masks, relaxation candles, movies, and audiobooks — even mouthwash! I also became obsessed with a quote a friend sent,
‘Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.’
I’ve been touched by the amounts of research my friends and family carried out to make me more comfortable, any food I craved was presented to me—I was so spoiled! I also have to thank my clients and vendors who have been amazing, and very supportive. I also cannot thank enough the support our wider community has offered to my parents too, it has been very touching—I’m a truly blessed woman.
Within the South Asian community, I don’t think we talk about breast cancer as much as we should. It could be that within our parent’s generation, they felt ashamed to talk about this disease like it’s their fault. In our generation, although we have the resources available, as well as support, it’s still not widely spoken about, and we need to change this.
As South Asian women, we show skin in saree’s and we see risqué dance moves in Bollywood movies, but suddenly we become conservative on the discussion of health.
No one wants to be abnormal, and it’s the ‘what will people say’ syndrome that causes so much secrecy. Denial doesn’t solve anything and sometimes it’s a shame that diseases like these, are swept under the rug; this is why women in our culture tend to be diagnosed in later stages.
Through my friends, I have been hearing about many other women that have been battling this disease, but they didn’t say anything until I did. It’s unclear why, but I hope that many more women will feel empowered to ask for help or advice.
We live in the world where breast cancer can affect us at any age, at any time, and I would strongly suggest making sure a breast examination is a part of your annual well woman examination; early detection is KEY in fighting this disease. We need to be the generation that advocates and promotes early detection and preventative care until the word cancer no longer exists!
I’ve been in treatment from April to September, and I feel like a rockstar getting past them all, but then I meet other women who have been receiving treatment for years and suddenly can’t help but feel slight guilt. These women though have been wonderfully encouraging, telling me that everyone is different and we are all amazing regardless of how long we had to deal with this. We are fighters, we are strong, and we ROCK.
Although I kept my treatment process quiet, it wasn’t because I didn’t think my community wouldn’t support me, I kept quiet because I didn’t want questions asked, that I didn’t have the answers to. Some questions are without filters regarding marriage and kids, and I just want to finish my treatment with little eyes on me. I did, though sign up for a program called S.O.S. ‘Survivors Offering Support,’ in hopes that I can hold someone’s hand through their treatment process; and hope that if it’s a person of South Asian descent that they will find me!
Listening to your body in these really demanding times can actually save your life. We’re all busy #AintNobodyGotTimeForCancer, I get it, I was in it, but if something doesn’t feel right, take the time to invest in yourself and see a doctor; make sure the smallest things don’t end up being bigger ones later.
Currently I’m on Hormone Therapy, and it’s not fun. I go through a number of roller coaster feelings daily. I can be moody, emotional and have some trouble concentrating, to laughing one minute, and angry the next; it’s entertaining and frustrating. I also hope to have this port removed before 2016, and I’m staying hopeful.
From initial diagnosis to where I am now, I’m still very comfortable talking about my diagnosis and experiences to anyone who asks. I still have a little of what they call ‘chemo brain’ where I will forget something like my phone number, but go figure, I can remember the exact flower my bride needs in her bouquet! I just have to remember it’s a matter of time and I can’t be hard on myself.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer has been a complete lifestyle change for me. My tumor was estrogen driven and environmental, so now I’m a big advocate for paraben free products. I threw out every product that contained parabens, and I always read the labels to make sure they are paraben and sulfate free; I also like to consult the toxicity reports on ewg.org.
As for food, I try to eat everything as natural and as raw as possible with very limited ingredients. I try to avoid soy and tofu as its high in estrogen, and I do miss coffee and wine, but I’ve realized that though I have to cut back significantly, I can still enjoy them in moderation.
It will take time to get my energy back to full charge, and to be able to stay out with friends and have a cocktail or two, but for now, I enjoy my time with them over lunch or dinner. Even with all of my treatments and positive spirit, I still have to fight everyday. You are not a survivor or in remission until you are clear for five years. Your hope, faith and strength have to get you through everyday! My future is unknown, which is nerve-racking for a planner, and dating, marriage, kids, health, and work will fall into place eventually; all that I can do is live day by day.
I am not sure why cancer came into my body, nor have I ever asked. Like many other things in my life, I figured this was one of those things that happen and I had to work through it.
Most importantly, what I have learned from this all is, perspective. I was always too busy, on the go, chasing that next event and planning a trip; the life you see on my social media was real life, it wasn’t a made up lifestyle. I made time for friends and family, but what happened to time for myself? What if the reason for this ugly thing to happen to me was for me to learn to breathe, to live in the moment, to focus on things and people that matter, to become more spiritual and to not sweat the small stuff, then sure I accept it.
This part of my life has taught me to appreciate the things and people that matter. You don’t know how precious your life is until you are fighting for it.
I hope no one reading this has to go through anything like I did, but I do want you to understand how limited our time here is. If you’re reading this, I would want to leave you with this:
Listen to your body, watch what you use and eat, live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy your life doing things with people that matter. You are irreplaceable and you have a long beautiful life to live- be your own superhero.
On Friday, New York Brown Girl staffers are supporting Preeti and our dear friend Ayesha Hakki at the Mischief Night Cancer Benefit and Costume Party 2015! We will be in the house to celebrate with Ayesha and Preeti on surviving breast cancer. Join us for the great cause on October 30 and don’t forget to wear a costume! on.fb.me/1OMEWIy
Krina Chauhan recently quit her corporate life in pursuit of a life-long dream to travel the world. After witnessing many hidden gems, eating her way around through different countries and sharing a laugh or two with the locals, you can now find her pursuing another dream, to write. Krina wants to write about the things she loves and share it with the world, but don’t worry, though, a traveler’s heart never fades, and you will probably find her researching her next destination soon.