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“I knew something was wrong when the nurse attending to me went from being really mean, to really nice.”
Jyoti Jadeja was speaking at the online community event Pink Ribbon Breakfast, an annual fundraiser for breast cancer.
Sporting telltale headwear, the 32-year-old had listeners in thrall as she recounted her breast cancer story with characteristic candour.
It all began when she felt the bra pinching, the award-winning Sydney lawyer narrated.
Days later, she had her diagnosis: carcinoma.
The timing of it all, she described, was “a sick joke”. Mum to a two-year-old, she was keen to get pregnant again. The shock diagnosis had urged her to consider having her eggs frozen, but imagine her surprise when the scans revealed she was pregnant already.
“The decision I had to make, was whether to put off chemo till the third trimester, or terminate the pregnancy. In what turned out to be the most harrowing time in this saga, I opted to terminate the pregnancy and begin chemo.”
Another speaker Anita Barar, similarly scarf-clad, claimed she saw no signs and felt no symptoms. She has no family history.
Stage III, revealed her diagnosis. And growing aggressively.
“Is this the end of the road for me,” she asked her surgeon.
He replied laughingly, “No, you don’t need to resign yet.”
Our targeted treatment sees 95% success, he assured her.
“I’m happy to report, I’m in the 95%,” proclaimed Anita, an award-winning writer based in Melbourne.
What stood out in both women, admirable in their honest and courageous recounts, was their positive attitude to it all – graceful acceptance, countered with a quiet but dogged determination to resume a normal life as soon as possible. Both admitted to turmoil – and there must be plenty of it ongoing as treatment continues – but they are already brimming with the wisdom of lessons learned.
“Trust in your treatment,” said Anita. “There’s an entire team of wonderful health workers who are currently caring for me, and I am indebted to them.”
“Take a year of your life to focus on the rest of your life,” said Jyoti, advising self-care.
The Pink Ribbon Breakfast, organised by survivors Rekha Rajvanshi and Sue Advani, has gained good profile in Sydney’s Indian community, with numbers increasing each year in attendees as well as donations.
Rekha herself relives the moment many times when years ago, clutching the hands of her two very young kids, her sailor husband away at sea, she waited with bated breath for the surgeon to advise her.
“I had no family around me, and didn’t know many people as we had moved here only recently. But those that I did know, all stepped up to help,” she told Indian Link.
That was 2007. By 2012, having lost one friend to breast cancer and having seen other friends go through it, she knew she had to do her bit. Together with a colleague she organised the first Pink Ribbon Breakfast, intended as a gentle way to allow sufferers and carers to tell their story among friends, as well as fundraise.
“The response was wonderful, with plenty of warmth and acceptance and hope.”
Today, it’s grown of its own momentum, with many ‘pink sisters’ joining in, dressed in the colour of the day. It’s become one of the mainstays on the annual social calendar.
Attending this year, besides those who have traversed the breast cancer path themselves, were members of parliament, local councillors, medical practitioners and community partners, many of these being repeat attendees.
Nearly $4200 was raised this time round at Pink Ribbon Breakfast, slightly lower than previous years no thanks to lockdown. It would have been so easy to give the event a miss this year, as one guest Julia Finn MP observed, but for Pink sisters Rekha and Sue, it was imperative that they soldier on.
As Jyoti and Anita recounted their heart-wrenching stories, perhaps there were many women, microphones muted and cameras turned off, who lifted a hand to do a quick self-check.
If they did, then Pink Ribbon Breakfast is evidence that grassroots efforts and bottom-up approaches – by lone citizens willing to drive change that they are concerned about – can indeed create the necessary momentum.
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