The worst news comes unbidden, unwanted and at inopportune times ready to rock even the most stable of conditions.
Gunjan Dixit was with her then four-year-old son in London when she received her diagnosis: She had stage one breast cancer. “I was studying nutrition [back in 2014],” she tells Gulf News in an interview. Her husband was travelling when the call came. Soon, she was splitting time between studying, mothering duties and rushing to the hospital for check-ups and biopsies and surgeries. “Fortunately, they found that the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes, but it still required a large part of my left breast to be removed. They put an implant in there later, which collapsed five months later.”
The diagnosis itself had come with difficulty – the doctors didn’t think there was anything amiss with the Indian expat’s body; but she had a feeling. “I was eating right, doing all the right things and yet I was exhausted,” she says. “I knew something was wrong.”
A screening – done upon the now 39-year-old’s insistence – proved she had been right all along. She had to have six or seven surgeries thereafter. There was another element that was niggling her during this time – she wanted a second child. “My heart goes out to my boy who was four years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. I did not want him to live his childhood alone. I wanted to give him the kind of relationship that I share with my elder sister,” she says.
But the doctors told her that even if she wanted to conceive – and it would be hard and high risk to do so – she would need to wait for about five years before she could even try. They needed to wait and see if the cancer would resurface.
“After finishing the treatment in London I came back to Dubai,” she says. And she waited. And waited. And waited. And five years on, she spoke to a doctor about pregnancy again.” My doctor had told me that it will not be easy to conceive naturally but I had no desire to go with any [in vitro fertilization] procedure due to my past health history. I started working on my physical and mental health, but I kept reminding myself that if this is what God wishes it will happen, if it is not then no worries,” she recalls.
Then, in January 2020, on her birthday she found out she was pregnant. “I was thrilled but, at the same time, I was wondering how my journey would be this time,” she admits.
“For the first five months everything went very well and I was amazed by my body’s responses. My journey was looking flawless and I thought my pregnancy would be as normal as others’ but soon things turned upside down.”
“I was diagnosed with hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets (HELLP) syndrome, a rare disorder that affects less than 1 per cent of all pregnancies. It is a major health concern and can be life-threatening to both the mother and the unborn baby,” she explains.
March of Dimes explains that HELLP syndrome can cause bleeding and blood clotting problems. Some women with HELLP develop disseminated intravascular coagulation (also called DIC). This is a blood clotting disorder than can lead to heavy bleeding.
Fluid buildup in the lungs (also called pulmonary edema). This can cause breathing problems.
Liver hemorrhage or failure.
Placental abruption. This is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth.
For the first five months everything went very well and I was amazed by my body’s responses. My journey was looking flawless and I thought my pregnancy would be as normal as others’ but soon things turned upside down.
Before the panic could set in, says Dixit, she began to consciously work towards staying calm. “Cancer taught me that worrying and overthinking will not change the future, that it’s better to enjoy the moment,” she explains. “I enjoyed my day with my family and was continuously communicating with my unborn girl, telling her that everything would be fine, that ‘mamma will take care of everything’,’’ she says.
The next day she went to the doctor to discuss options, and she was terrified. She found herself listening stonily to whatever the doctor was saying, blocking out any pre-term birth talk. “Whatever option she was recommending I was kind of not listening to. I was saying to my girl, ‘I will keep you healthy and inside me as long as you need, to make you strong.’ My doctor was sounding worried, even though she was not saying it but I could feel it. I asked my doctor if she could give me some time before starting treatment. I had no idea what I was going to do but was not ready to start anything. She said, ‘You have four days before the next test’,” she recalls.
Dixit says she was troubled not only by the treatments on offer but also of the side-effects they would bring. “I knew because of my experience with cancer treatment that after multiple procedures and medication, which was lifesaving, the after-effects take time to leave the body and that was troubling me,” she explains.
Healing with food
She thought of her strengths – her background in nutrition. And she decided to try to heal herself with food. She began to include foods such as wheatgrass, aloe vera and beetroot into her meals. “These would increase platelets while not causing too much stress on the system. But when you consume these things, you need to be aware of the quantity you are eating – you can’t eat too much,” she says.
“I followed my (food) plan for four days and went back hospital without any expectations. With God’s blessings, my blood test showed a positive change. I have been in the nutrition field for almost 20 years, but never had seen so much change in just four days. The right kind of nutrition works like magic.”
The doctor allowed her to continue her pregnancy without medical intervention but monitored her. “This was a very crucial time as I had to prepare myself, to continuously follow my routine without making any mistakes. Every third-fourth day I had to go to the hospital for blood tests,” she says. “Sometimes the results were positive and at other times, they were negative, making me worried and hopeless, but throughout this process, my doctor, Esra Majid, supported me a lot,” she adds.
My pregnancy was a kind of roller coaster ride with a lot of surprises and difficulties starting from getting pregnant to the countdown to 37 weeks, but I would say it was a remarkable journey where the right kind of state of mind, support and knowledge made it possible.
When it came to going into labour at 37 weeks, the doctors were once again worried. Dixit’s blood platelet levels were at 90,000 and her chances of going into coma were high, she recalls. Once again, she doubled down on healthy food. “I can’t believe it,” she says, “in three-four days my platelet levels were up to 120,000! (As per medical website Journalfeed.org, the normal platelet count is around 250,000 and decreases to about 225,000 at delivery.)
“Finally, after completing 37 weeks on August 20, 2020, I delivered a healthy baby girl. I named her Ishika, which means ‘God’s own daughter’.
“My pregnancy was kind of a roller coaster ride with a lot of surprises and difficulties starting from getting pregnant to the countdown to 37 weeks, but I would say it was a remarkable journey where the right kind of state of mind, support and knowledge made it possible,” she says.
“My friends call her a miracle child; in a few days, she will turn one,” says Dixit, reminding us that sometimes good news can come quite suddenly too.
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