Kiren worried what people would think when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She shares why she wants to spread awareness of breast cancer in Asian communities.
I told myself I was going to be fine
When I first felt a lump on my breast, I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I was at a doctor’s appointment for something different that I thought to get it checked. Within a couple of days, I was being referred for a mammogram and an ultrasound.
I didn’t want to believe it was serious. I kept telling myself I was going to be fine.
When the doctor told me I had a tumour, I said, ‘It could be benign.’ He replied, ‘No, it’s breast cancer.’
The shock hit me then. I didn’t know what to say.
I was scared of chemotherapy
I was told I would start chemotherapy. I think it scared me more than breast cancer.
When you hear the word chemotherapy, you create a physical image of treatment in your head straight away. With breast cancer, you don’t really know what to expect.
I didn’t realise I could lose my fertility
I had fertility treatment before my chemotherapy started. It almost felt like an afterthought. My doctor simply mentioned, ‘You can do fertility treatment.’ There was no follow-up. No further conversation. I went ahead with it, as I was worried about chemotherapy ruining my chances of conceiving.
After finishing chemotherapy I saw my oncologist, and I realised that pregnancy wouldn't be an option while I was taking hormone therapy for the next five to ten years. That hadn’t been mentioned to me before starting treatment. I was so thankful for having had the chance to preserve my fertility.
My mum didn’t want to tell anyone
When I was diagnosed, I told my parents. My mum was very emotional and then said, ‘We’re not going to tell anybody.’ It's a natural response to anything worrying in our community.
She didn't really explain why, but I assumed it was because I’m 37, single, and now with a breast cancer diagnosis. She was worried about what people would think. In our community it always seems to be about what people will think.
But I was going to lose my hair. Did I always have to wear a wig, so people didn’t notice? Did I have to stay inside so people wouldn’t see me?
I didn’t want it to feel like my diagnosis was my fault. I told her that I was going to tell the people that I wanted to know. I wasn’t going to hide.
I didn’t know any Asian women who’d had breast cancer
Breast cancer isn’t spoken about in Asian communities. I don’t think enough people are informed about it. It’s a way of keeping everything behind closed doors.
I told my mum when I first found my lump, but because I wasn’t concerned, nor was she. We didn’t know that a lump should be taken so seriously.
If she had been able to speak to someone at temple about it or if there had been more awareness about breast cancer in our community, we could have caught it sooner.
I started searching for blogs as I wanted to read other people's stories of breast cancer. Hearing from others helped me understand what my experience might look like.
There were hardly any Asian women sharing their stories. How was I meant to find a perspective that I related to?
I want to be there for other women like me
I decided to start an Instagram account, sikhgirlvscancer, to document my cancer journey. I wish I had known someone else with my background who had been through breast cancer. Now, through Instagram, I can be that person for someone else.
It’s amazing. People have messaged me to say how helpful they find my account and I’ve received so much support back. One person even went to get checked because of seeing my page.
I also joined a support group on Facebook when I first got diagnosed. I found it a bit much at first – lots of the members were going through treatment and I had just started mine. But as time went on, it became such an amazing space. If I had any issue at all, the other members would have an answer.
I wish it was as open in my community as it is online.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed
I've learnt that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When you’re first diagnosed, there's so much information to take in. I thought I'd need to give the doctors answers to things immediately, but you need to absorb as much as you can over time.
It helps to have supportive people around you. I went to my first appointment alone. It was a lot to take in, so after that my dad or sister came with me to every single appointment. It’s been a tough journey but my family and friends have been amazing. I’ve surrounded myself with people who have kept me busy when I needed it and have helped me to keep a positive attitude about my treatment. It's really helped me get through my diagnosis.
When you’re facing breast cancer, it can help to talk it through with someone who’s been there too. Find out more about Someone Like Me.