I know first hand, what it feels like to hear the words, “You have Breast cancer”. When I first started working as a breast cancer surgeon, my prayer was, “How can I best serve my patients”? The answer came in form of my own breast cancer diagnosis. On March 27th, 2015, I was with my family on a spring break and got the call that I have breast cancer. I was a practicing breast cancer surgeon for 8 months at that time and I am used to telling my patients that they have breast cancer but I never thought that I would be on the other end, receiving the diagnosis, as the result of a routine screening mammogram. I felt like I was hit by a train as I was not expecting this news, actually no one expects a cancer diagnosis. I wasn’t new to experiencing adversities in life.
You see- I am THE true American dream– I wanted to be a doctor since age 5, my parents migrated to the US from India in the late 80’s. My Father was an electrical engineer and his only dream was for his kids to get a great education and become successful. They told us to dream big, work hard and always be honest and I remember my father telling me constantly, “Whatever job you do, you have to be great at it, there was no place for mediocrity in our home.”
As early immigrants, my parents could not afford my college tuition, I trained as an Licensed practical nurse after high school and worked as an licensed practical nurse at night while I went to school during the day to get my bachelors. A few years later, my father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke during a surgery to remove a brain tumor, meningioma, he remained bedridden and quadriplegic for 16 years, while my family and I helped take care of him, I enrolled in the local physician assistant school and worked as a physician assistant for almost 2 years before I went to medical school at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.
Even through ups and downs of my life, I never forgot my father’s words to dream big and I stayed true to my dream of becoming a physician. I pursued medical school with the help of my husband and my family- I was married with 2 kids…… Yes!! I chose the road less traveled.
After I graduated medical school in 2008, I did residency in general surgery at OhioHealth Doctors Hospital and Fellowship in breast surgical oncology at OhioHealth Grant Medical center in Columbus, Ohio. After I finished the fellowship, I started working as a breast surgeon at OhioHealth, in Columbus, Ohio. Unfortunately, my father passed away on November 12, 2014, but I never forgot his words to be the best at my job as a breast surgeon-so, I prayed and asked God, how I could best serve my patients, the answer came in the form of my own breast cancer diagnosis. After being a breast surgeon for eight months, I faced my own breast cancer diagnosis on March 27, 2015.
My initial reaction was same as what you would expect from anyone getting the same news- denial, followed by anger (why me? Why now? As I was starting my career, and I wanted to do a lot of things with my life), then came bargaining, depression and finally acceptance of my diagnosis.
I became that statistic (1 in eight women) who gets diagnosed with breast cancer.
This was another challenge in my life…life is funny that way, none of us are spared of the obstacles….we will each face them in form of difficult patients, crisis, setbacks, illnesses…these are all part of life…..we all have the resilience, maturity, and courage we need to pick up and dust yourself off and keep going. It is not the failure that counts, it is what we do after the failure that is important in life. Helen Keller said, adversity is not what happens to you but what you make of it.
I have seen both sides of the experience as a breast cancer surgeon and a breast cancer patient and have gained a unique insight and perspective into what it is like to face cancer.
Cancer has become a blessing to me: I know I did not feel this way when I was first diagnosed. But having gone thru the diagnosis and now 5 years later, I not only have greater compassion and empathy for my patients, but cancer has allowed me to gain strength, endurance, tenacity, and perseverance. I hope my story and life will inspire other people.
Now, I have seen both sides of the experience, as a breast cancer surgeon and a breast cancer patient, and I have gained unique insight and perspective into what it’s like to face breast cancer. “You have breast cancer” are the three words no one wants to hear but unfortunately, around 270, 000 women and 2,500 men hear those same words this year. Throughout this experience, I learned a lot of things as it relates to my patients and me, and my learning is unique in a sense that I learned things that have helped me become a better daughter, wife, mother, friend, inspirational speaker and a physician, specifically breast cancer surgeon. My work as a board certified general surgeon and a fellowship trained breast cancer surgeon is not just a job but is a calling and my Hope is to best serve breast cancer patients and help them become thrivers and warriors and not just survivors. It is important to me to help them live a good quality of life find a their new normal.
Disclaimer: This website is purely for me to air my personal views and opinions. No professional advice will be given
Dr. Deepa Halaharvi