Meet Nithiyaa, a cloud engineer. PurelyB recently had the privilege of meeting and chatting with this wonderful lady whose infectiously enthusiastic and cheerful demeanor belied nothing of the trying times that she had gone through.
Be inspired by her story and her positive outlook on life as she weathered through challenges including having to cope with unanticipated treatment costs.
When and how did you discover you first had cancer?
It was December 2012 and I was in my final year of my undergraduate studies. A day came when I found myself out of breath and thought it to be asthma as it runs in the family. I had a lump on the left side of my neck which I shared with the doctor. He insisted that I do a X-ray and CT scan. The doctor broke the news to my family first. I was still in high spirits and oblivious of the outcome of my scan results. My family had returned home and the results were handed over to me. Penned down on that envelope were words ending with -oma. This didn’t sit very well with me as I knew that the suffix -oma didn’t sound positive. I immediately called my younger sister, who was a medical student and she informed me that it was Hodgkin disease or lymphoma; a cancer that affects the lymph nodes and the immune system.
Turns out that they had found a biopsy mass between my lungs. My side lungs had collapsed and that was why I became breathless. The news kept me up crying the entire night. I was in denial and couldn’t believe that cancer had hit me. I remember how my sister and I were comforting each other, wet cheeks and all.
How did your family react to the news?
My family members were troopers. While I knew deep down they were affected by this sudden news, they were really strong and stood by me. My Mum and Dad did not show their emotions in front of me. Mum did share with me later on that when Dad received the news of my illness, he teared up. When I heard that, I was deeply touched by my Dad’s heart and love for me as he always puts up a strong front.
My now husband (beau back then) and I went through the ups and downs together. And I was blessed to have caring and positive friends that came to visit me in the hospital often. They would bring me magazines, food and we would just enjoy hanging out together.
What were your main concerns after being diagnosed?
I was determined to finish my degree as I had to put my studies on hold to undergo treatment. Being diagnosed with cancer didn’t deter me from sitting for my exams during the end of 2012. I was determined not to miss it, so I sat for it and started chemotherapy right after that.
Besides that, the long-term effects of the cancer treatment also bothered me but I decided to take it one day at a time.
What was your lowest moment?
Being told that you have cancer sure isn’t rosy.
My lowest moment was when I began losing hair due to the side effects of the treatment. It was emotionally tough to have to go bald.
On the bright side, I have a bubbly personality so I couldn’t stay seated and still for long. I would walk about the hospital and made many friends that way, from the doctors to the cleaners. So much so, that the doctors had to tell me to slow down and relax!
How has cancer changed your outlook on life?
I learnt to appreciate the small things in life and to be happy with what I have.
I am immensely blessed to have a loving and supportive husband who has stood and continues to stand by me through it all. We recently tied the knot in March this year after 9 years and I certainly can say that I married my best friend!
I used to be short-tempered before but I think my energy levels dropped when I was undergoing treatment. So I didn’t have the energy to get angry whenever I felt upset. So I learnt to let go of the small stuff. Over time, I found myself becoming more patient and not easily angered.
The upside of having cancer is that my eczema condition has completely cleared! Don’t ask me how that happened but I’m glad it’s gone!
What do you enjoy doing, what makes you smile?
I love to travel and explore new places. I’d be happy to spend the afternoon just sitting in a café and observing people – people-watching fascinates me.
I enjoy walking and rock climbing. I desired to climb Batu Caves after completing my treatment – which I did. That was a huge accomplishment for me. I’m learning more and more to celebrate small joys and achievements.
The past six months have been nothing short of amazing. In fact, I’ve had my biggest moments yet. Among my highlights include being a medalist at the Blue Cap Prostate Cancer Run in November last year. Completing the race was a milestone for me as I had reduced lung capacity after treatment. So crossing the finish line and bagging a medal was a bonus!
Another highlight for me was having the privilege of taking part in the recent Kuala Lumpur Indie Fashion Week (KLIFW) in May this year. The National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) invited me to be part of a themed fashion show to liberate and empower women in our fight against cancer. Being able to meet other cancer survivors and hear them share their stories was wonderful – we bonded like sisters.
The stars aligned and I worked alongside a talented fashion design student and we got along really well. She designed a gorgeous white and black ensemble for me and I loved it! I was feeling nervous during the rehearsal. When the actual event day came, I could hear rapturous cheers and applause from the crowd as I strutted down the runway. It was exhilarating!
What lifestyle changes did you have to make?
I am such a foodie! However, during chemotherapy, I couldn’t take spicy, fatty or raw foods. In a way, that helped me start cleaning up my diet. I stopped having fast food and I eat more home-cooked meals these days. I learnt to eat slowly and have small, frequent meals. Lucky for me, I like drinking water. So, passing on sugary drinks comes naturally to me.
On days that I can’t exercise outdoors, I do home-exercises and try as much as possible to keep an active lifestyle.
How did you cope with the cost of the treatment?
When I was first diagnosed with cancer in December 2012, I had to undergo six months of treatment. I had a relapse in February 2014 and had to go for chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The second time around was tough as I felt weaker and needed more rest with the increasingly intense treatment. My white and red blood cells counts were low. Being the usually up-and-about kind of person, I kept myself busy reading instead.
Finance-wise, I was fortunate to have workplace insurance cover the cost of most of my treatment. Being treated at a government hospital helped eased what would have been a hefty healthcare bill. After being diagnosed with cancer and going through the rounds of treatment, I have realised the importance of insurance and have made sure that my entire family is insured. Going through cancer is tough in itself; not just physically, it can be emotionally and mentally draining too. Having the financial part taken care of meant one less worry.
What advice would you offer to women fighting cancer?
“Cancer does not define me. What I do defines me.”
– Nithiyaa Ghanis
Do all you can to get back to your normal routine. Cancer is hard but you’ll get through it. Let the small things go, don’t let them zap your energy. I celebrate 29 years of life this year and looking back, I am so thankful and I certainly look forward to the possibilities and opportunities ahead. So celebrate life and those around you!
PurelyB would like to sincerely thank you for sharing your journey with us, Nithiyaa. You are amazing! Keep smiling and making the world around you a brighter place! xoxo
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