This is an amazing journey of a fighter. Regardless of what life throws at her, Lakshmi chooses to face it with great determination and fortitude. This reinvention was thrust upon her; events not in her control forcing her to recalibrate with the new challenges that kept appearing in succession. Yet she shows us the power of the Mind over Body and how one can find resources within oneself to face any adversity.
This story took a long winded route before it took the shape you see it. Skype conversations helped create the first, second and third draft, before it was done to satisfaction!
You can contact Lakshmi at : firstname.lastname@example.org
My mother was milking the cow when she had her pains and I was delivered right there in the cow shed! That’s why people used to say “Thavuttukku vaangeena pullai”, meaning bought from the cows! Near Madurai, just opposite Kodai Road Junction my Mother’s father had a huge mansion house and I was born there on January 6th 1972. My Grandfather saw my long legs and hands and commented that I would become a dancer when I grow up! (Though I never learnt to dance formally, I still have great interest and flair for music and dance!)
Mother had 16 siblings and her last sibling; my Chithi, was born just 6 months before I was! My Maternal Grandfather was a landowner with a hotel business in Kodai Road while my Paternal Grandfather was his business partner and friend. Later on my Paternal Grandfather moved to Shoranur and settled there.
While living in Kodai road my Father used to teach music to my mother’s elder sister as he had grown up learning Sama Veda and Devi Mahatmiyam. So my Maternal Grandfather had great regard for my father and one thing led to another, horoscopes were exchanged and my father’s horoscope matched with my mothers’. In a short span of time my parents and the two families were brought together in marriage.
My father soon applied and got a job with RBI and was posted to Chennai. My elder brother and I were born in Kodai Road but grew up in Gangu Reddy Street, Egmore; Chennai till we moved to RBI staff quarters in 1975 and lived there till 1985.
Life was great in the eyes of this little girl! We were a close knit family and I have fond memories of those times together. Yet very soon my Maternal Grandmother and then Grandfather passed away in quick succession and my Mother who always had a great sense of responsibility towards her family insisted that she would take care of her sisters and so three of my mother’s sister’s joined us at RBI quarters and Mother went out of her way to help and provide for her siblings.
My Father was also taking care of his family and with his meagre salary he now had to provide for 7 people in the house and this started adding a lot of stress on them. Father and Mother were working very hard to keep the family together and this showed on my Mother; she was so invested in the family and taking care of them she neglected herself completely.
Soon we had to move to Bombay as my Father received a promotion and was transferred to Bombay. My aunts had to go back to their brother’s house in Madurai and my brother and I also went to Madurai for some time till my Parents found a house in Bombay, but Mother came back to take me midway through 9th standard as she did not want to leave me alone in Madurai.
I took admission in a school in Bombay, while my brother continued to study in Madurai and finished his 12th from there. While we adjusted to the new environment and culture of Bombay, everything slowly settled down as we started enjoying life there.
My Mother’s Struggle
I was going to appear for my 10th Board Exams in March when my Mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. We were shaken up but even then we were hopeful and quite sure once she underwent surgery things would go back to normal. Her surgery was unfortunately scheduled closer to my Math Exam.
I don’t know how I wrote that exam. I only know I went for it in a daze, as I was thinking about the surgery and how I needed to take care of her afterwards. Mother’s surgery was successful and she came home from hospital much to our relief, but my results had a different story to tell. Though I was an excellent student and usually topped both in studies and sports, I had done very well in all papers that I appeared for except Maths. I failed in that one paper. I was devastated. There were lot of negative comments and those who I thought were my friends turned around and ridiculed me. More than failing, this attitude change from friends shocked me.
It was only my Mother’s words that helped me during this time. It was like both of us had written a test and she had passed (by coming out of surgery safely) while I had to keep my chin up and not lose faith. She spoke to me at length about standing up for myself, being assertive and encouraged me to see failures as stepping stone in life. This was the first time my mother opened up and shared her feelings and her thoughts and we became very close in that brief period of time. I wrote the paper again in October and passed with flying colours. My mother was happy and she urged me to excel.
She was in and out of hospital and we were battling with the disease. At this time as I was an active member of NCC, I chose to go for an important camp but when I came back, I had to listen to a lot of angry words from my relatives after which I was not allowed to go for any camp again. These incidents impacted me tremendously and continued to haunt me for a long time afterwards. It made me bitter and angry and that sat very deeply within me, which I did not realise till much, much later.
Mother passed away on Aug 4th 1988 when she was just 39 years.
I was just 16 years old when Mother passed away and responsibility of the house fell on my shoulders. I was now full time caretaker for the 3 of us, cooking, cleaning and caring for the house. I stopped going out to play the way I used to and slowly withdrew into myself. I stopped being the extroverted person I was. I did not even realise the change that was happening as I rejected opportunities that came my way, choosing to stay back to take care of the family and not push myself to explore options for myself. Though the school teachers and after that my college classmates encouraged and supported me, unconsciously I pushed away all opportunities that would in any way keep me away from the family. I started sacrificing my own happiness, passions in order to satisfy the needs of the other family members. I imposed rules on my own life, opting to do things within the framework of family and not allowing myself to take pleasure in what I actually wanted do.
All this was a result of my thinking which led to a lot of resentment and anger being bottled up within me. I believed I had not been able to live my childhood completely and I was thrust into a role of responsibility without really wanting that. I assumed this responsibility, forgoing everything, without realising that I need not have been this way.
In the midst of all this I went on to do an MA Sociology from Bombay and also completed a PG. Diploma in Special Education from Chennai and worked there for 4 years with my father to take care of me as my guardian. Of course by now, my Father was keen to have me married.
Alliances were sought and in the traditional manner I met and married my husband Ramki. His work required him to leave the country and soon I found myself travelling to the US for an 11 year stay. Things moved pretty much like it does for most NRI; we got a green card and I picked up a job as a Special Educator in a Vocational Unit. After four years there I became mother to 2 beautiful girls in quick succession. I quit my job to become a full time mother and revelled in raising my dear daughters. Things were going pretty smoothly when my husband expressed a desire to go back to India. He felt a need to stay close to his parents and wanted to spend some time with them in their old age. Reluctantly I agreed, after all things appeared fine in the US and I did not want to relocate. We chose Hyderabad and moved there lock stock and barrel in March 2011.
Six months after our arrival back to India it reared its head.
Meet my Challenges
I had severe bleeding in August 2011 and consulted a Gynaecologist. The doctor began by ruling out everything for this to occur and I was told there was a possibility of polyps. I was advised surgery to remove them and soon my surgery was scheduled for March 12th and by now my blood count was way down to 7 with all the heavy bleeding.
My surgery meant to last for 4hours extended up to 12 hours and the doctor did not disclose anything to me except that she had to remove the Uterus and my ovaries. Only latter I came to know that she knew from the beginning that this was something more than mere polyps. When I came out of surgery my entire family was waiting eagerly to see me, glad that I had faced this so bravely.
On the second night at hospital I had a strange dream; I thought someone was knocking on the door and when I opened it, the person announced “You have Cancer”. I woke up with a jolt. I felt disturbed but did not share this with anyone.
I recovered from surgery and was soon back home. Almost a month later, on the way to our first review meeting with the Gynaecologist, my husband gathered his courage to tell me I had tested positive for cancer. We were going to meet the Oncological Surgeon who had operated on me and who also happened to be my Gynaec’s husband. The way the Gynae had managed the surgery and brought in her husband an Onco-Surgeon to take care of me at the operating table was admirable. Inspite of knowing all this at that point I was just shattered; I could not speak to my Gynaec or the Surgeon.
The fear was overpowering; thoughts of my mother and her struggles with the dreaded disease played in my mind constantly, I did the only thing that gave me solace – pray. Even though I am a believer, now faith came to my rescue and I prayed deeply for help and guidance.
I have guidance
Just before my surgery I made friends with a neighbour who introduced me to a library close-by called Kaleidoscope and there met a person who went on to play a very significant role in my life. My children had a wonderful time participating in events there and I was touched and moved by the warm acceptance they showed towards me. When I shared my concerns about my health, they suggested I do a course in NLP. I was still too stressed and confused to focus on understanding how my mind could be related to my health in any way and did not commit to NLP then.
It was only after my surgery when I was again urged to do the NLP course. I went along. I was blank and numb and willing to try anything to help me through this period. When I joined the classes, I felt a positive energy course through me. I attended the entire month, following this I was asked to join the NLP personal growth classes. These classes started having a positive effect on me. I learnt affirmations and was guided through books, reading and sharing with others. My coach brought out the best in me, confronting me if I did not achieve goals that I set and urging me to clear my mind. I started by removing all the excess baggage I had from the past. I cleared myself of self-pity, though this took a long while to clear and certain belief systems which were very strong within me. Learning to stay positive and focussed was drilled into me in these sessions.
There are no coincidences in life and I strongly believe I am connected to all these people who took care of me and they were placed there to guide me through this life. The Gynae who cared for me and carried me through this entire ordeal and her husband was available at the operating theatre to take care right through the recovery period. My radiologist was a neighbour and even my NLP coach, I found later on was my brother’s friend’s sister The most wonderful friends I made at the library and in my apartment were god send as they took care of my children and many of my needs. Elderly people in my apartment started sending food almost every day. Friends took care of the children and so many more wonderful souls who were placed in my life, to take care of me.
The chemotherapy and radiation treatment went off well. Every time I went for chemo, I affirmed I would come back safe and with no untoward side effects. I used to keep books beside me, read and pray throughout these sessions. I had no hair loss and hardly any nausea. In fact at this stage my hair was growing longer and my doctor even commented on this amazing fact! Coming back to see my father taking care of my small children who were just 6 & 5 years old and my husband beside me at every step of this, I learnt to be grateful I had a loving and supportive family and friends.
Another challenge; another fight
We decided to go on a much needed vacation to Coorg soon after the chemo. It was a great holiday! We came back and I went for a check-up as there was slight pain in my abdominal region. A growth was detected in my colon, this was unrelated to the uterus but an obviously a new development. I went through many procedures again. Colonoscopy showed that there was new growth in the colon and that I may need to undergo surgery again, the Lymph nodes were positive and I had to go through another round of chemo as well. So once again I went through a major surgery to remove the growth and this was followed by rounds of chemotherapy.
I was broken down. I cried and again went into a cycle of self-pity. Was there no end to this?
The only people who I could find solace with was my NLP group. So I went back to my coach and asked her why I was going through all this again, not even sure if she could give me answers I was looking for. But she did. She asked me to examine all the anger that I had not still let go. Negativity, fear and resentment of all my past were still within and she coached me on every minute aspect that I could work on.
I renewed my efforts to think positively and practised self-compassion. I started reading Louise Hay and became aware of how the mind has the power to heal. I was also given a book called Zero Limits by my coach and I found it truly transformational. These books had a great impact on me and I understood healing is an outcome of faith and surrender to the Universe. Reading these books made me a different person and I evolved with a new perspective on myself and life.
Once again I was guided by a divine force and recommended to a special Naturopathy treatment in Cochin, through one of our friends. This centre was run by a reputed Oncology Surgeon doctor who had switched to naturopathy after seeing the side effects of chemo-treatments that he himself used to give. This alternative therapy was not a route my Radiologist approved of, yet I went ahead to register for this treatment for which I had to stay in the Centre in Cochin for 10 days.
At Cochin the treatment required me to stay at the centre by myself and my family checked into a hotel nearby. I underwent complete check-up and the treatment plan was specifically designed for me. I underwent chelation treatment to remove toxins and the Doctor also spoke at length about Mind-Body healing to me.
They did a thorough analysis of my nutritional intake and initially all the bodily requirements were given through intravenous methods. From the first day to the tenth day a tremendous change came within me, I saw myself grow stronger. I understood in great detail all the nutritional requirements that my body needed. I was asked to go gluten free and diary free. I found a lot of changes happening in my body and a general feeling of wellness within me. I left the centre feeling rejuvenated.
Soon after this I went with my family to visit Guruvayoor, once again that made me feel I was under divine guidance and I must trust the process of life.
Challenges come in threes
At this time my husband who had completed his assignment in Hyderabad, proposed we relocate back to Atlanta. My father supported his decision and felt that the move would be good for all of us as a family. As my brother and his family were also at Atlanta, we decided this would be best for us. Though I was reluctant to leave India, I soon found I had to pack my bags and follow him. Happy to have my brother’s support at Atlanta as well, I soon settled in to this new routine.
Once again I went for a check-up, routine check was normal but the yearly Colonoscopy showed a new growth in the rectal region. We were in disbelief. What have I done to deserve this? My husband’s anguish added to my pain and distress. Is there no respite for us? Do we have to go through this once again??
Yet, this time I pulled myself together quickly and determined to look at all the positives that I could see in this situation. Keeping constantly in touch with the NLP group and my coach helped me stay focussed, determined and positive. We were lucky to detect this early, we could be third time lucky and I just had to let go and trust where this was taking me. I resolved to play my part in a role that had been chosen for me. I focused on being grateful and thankful every minute. Unlike before, now I could really feel gratitude whole heartedly and just being present in the moment helped things move in a direction I knew would take me to a better place.
I met an Onco-Surgeon who believed in the Mind-Body connect and who encouraged me to continue in this path of self-compassion. I was determined to be positive no matter what. Though my Naturo-therapist in India was against the treatment I decided to go ahead and have a Colostomy, which was removal of the Colon and an ileostomy which was an addition of a pouch for removal of body-waste. The surgeon told it would be a life altering surgery and I would also undergo a lifestyle change, yet the need to get rid of this once and for all was running in my mind. I took the plunge bravely but not fully realising the impact it would have on my life.
Being present to myself
The surgery went on for 10 hours as there were some complications. I came out of surgery with an ileostomy bag and on the second day after surgery they asked me to walk. It was very difficult those initial days. Every moment was a challenge. Managing the bag was a time consuming task and I would spend up to 4 hours every time cleaning and draining it. This was happening 3-4 times a day and half my day was spent in the bathroom.
Finally my doctor advised me to visit an Ostomy nurse, who specialised in care of the bag. I fixed an appointment at the specialist hospital and made weekly visits to manage my bag. The nurse who attended was a kind soul, who patiently taught me how to manage the bag and the skin around the bag. Slowly I learnt to schedule and manage my food intake, exercise and routine. I forced myself to stop feeling repulsed by the whole bag-management and learnt to make the process more pleasant, like listening to music and learning new songs. We all got desensitized as a family and they learnt to be patient with me when I was in the bathroom even keeping me company at times and making poop jokes!
Once I learned the proper management of the bag, my life was much easier and I could start doing things I wanted to. Meditating and walking slowly became a part of my routine. I soon got the courage to go out of the house and when I drove the car for the first time after this life changing surgery, I felt so thankful and liberated. Cooking all my favorite dishes, caring for my house, going out to meet friends or family and becoming independent once more, were goals I made and started achieving rapidly. Accidents were a bother but I slowly started learning how to manage it without allowing it to stop me in any way. I applied for a volunteer job at the local library and got it too! Lot of things changed; my emotional connections, physical relationship and life itself. I was not the only one affected by what I was going through; my husband’s journey with me is another story to tell!
At every step of my life I encountered people who helped and supported me and gave me that impetus to keep me moving forward. My family was my first pillar of support and then my NLP group another pillar, with their help I started setting goals for myself and felt great joy when I saw myself reaching it.
I feel I have climbed a mountain and jumped off with full faith that life would protect me. I have learnt that I must live life to the fullest and take care of myself first before I can take care of others. No matter what happens, have full faith and surrender myself to a higher intelligence. Love myself unconditionally; accept myself and my mistakes. Live in the present moment, let go of the past and not worry about the future. Stop doubting or judging myself and not undermine myself. The mind is limitless and must surround itself with positive and when we change ourselves those around will change automatically.
I only focus on the fact that the mind can work miracles over anything else and has the power to even change the effect of the DNA. I say “So, What?” and continue to be present in this moment as an authentic, happy person.