Shruti Babu, Mother and Influencer
Meet Shruti Babu, a mother of two and breast cancer survivor. Shruti shares with us her story of fighting cancer, inspiring openness in her community, and transforming her purpose and relationships through her journey. You can find Shruti on Instagram at @pajamamama512.
“In a nutshell, life before cancer was pretty fast paced. My whole life revolved around my husband and two kids. I was the mom who took my kids to every single appointment, but I’d been neglecting my own health for years. By the time I caught my own cancer, it was stage two. That’s just what we do as Indian women.
I distinctly remember it was the Sunday before Diwali when I first suspected something. I was showering and I felt something really strange in my left breast. I thought it was dried up breast milk, but decided I should probably get it checked out.”
“My doctor got me in right away and confirmed it was something to take a closer look at. We did a couple more tests and a mammogram. It took 7 days for them to get back to me and confirm that I had breast cancer. I was planning a humongous Diwali party at the time, and the diagnosis just came out of nowhere. I was 38 and nobody in my family had ever had cancer. This wasn’t even an option. If they had said I had diabetes it would have made a little bit more sense, but this was really hard to digest.
I didn’t know too much about cancer prior to my diagnosis. So when I heard I had cancer, I literally thought I was going to die and that there were no options. I remember walking into my oncologist’s office with tears in my eyes, asking him if I was going to die. He said ‘no way,’ and from there on out I did my best to shift my attitude towards fighting to live.”
Treatment: The Real Talk
“My husband and I went to a ‘Cancer 101’ class together, where they broke down the whole process for us. They told me to clear my schedule for a year, which was daunting as I’m the type of person who has 50 activities planned in a day!
My treatment process took a full year. I went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy, once a week, for 6-8 hours at a time. One of my friends set up a chemo calendar where a bunch of friends signed up to come with me to each session. Every Friday for 16 weeks, somebody different would fly in and come hang out. We’d start at 8am where they would draw my blood and install the device that the chemo goes into. I’d then talk to the doctor who would always have a laundry list of questions, asking me on a scale of 1-10 how I was doing. And then from 10-3pm, I’d sit in a leather recliner with a pillow and blanket, attached to what looks like an IV. My friends and I would Uber Eats some food and make the most out of a crappy situation. Strangely enough, I actually really enjoyed going to chemo - imagine meeting your closest friends every Friday!
A few months into chemo, I lost all my hair. I went from my highest moment to my lowest moment. Everybody was like ‘oh, it’s just hair,’ and I wanted to scream in frustration. Thankfully, I was able to get some amazing wigs and fake lashes, which helped. But hair to me is very sexy - and I wanted my eyebrows and my eyelashes back. When I look good, I feel good.”
“During my treatment, my dad went back to India on a short trip. It was no big deal, and it never once crossed our minds that something would happen. But the day I lost my hair was the day I lost my dad. I got a call and learned that he’d had a stroke while visiting a friend, and wasn’t able to get the proper help in time. It almost felt unreal because it happened in another country, you know?
My dad was someone who loved Ayurveda, natural remedies and helping people. I’d watched him help our entire Indian community my whole life. What was really hard was knowing that I could have really used my dad’s help through chemo. My first love was my dad, and it was a lot to lose. But we moved forward with each day and I continued to fight for him.
It was very easy to be sad and frustrated throughout the process, but I had to be strong for my two little girls who are three and five years old. They made me stronger by loving and accepting me no matter what happened. They would massage my bald head, kiss it and tell me that I was still pretty and that I was a princess! Young kids see the best in every situation, and I really needed that at the time. The whole community came through for me. You name it, it was done.”
“As I went through chemo, I eventually decided to get a double mastectomy. The cancer had only been in my left breast, but the probability of it coming to my right was strong. I knew I didn’t want to go through this again, so I chose an aggressive path. At the start, a lot of people could not understand why I decided to go for the double mastectomy if I if I only had cancer in one breast. Despite what others may have thought, I knew in my gut that this was the right choice for me.
Once I had the mastectomy, I went through a 10 hour reconstructive surgery. I’m now in remission, and have regular checkups with my oncologist, plastic surgeon, breast surgeon and my primary care doctor.”
Sharing her Journey
“A few months before my diagnosis, I had started an Instagram account to share my journey as a mom. Once I got diagnosed, I started thinking about publicly sharing my cancer story as well. I was worried about putting myself out there or oversharing, but my husband encouraged me to share, saying that it would be more helpful than harmful. If my story was going to help even one more person get a mammogram, it would be worth it.
The one thing that I’ve learned is that when you put yourself out there, you are very vulnerable. You have to have thick skin. I’ve had people tell me that ‘I can’t believe you did this,’ or things as bad as ‘nobody will ever marry your daughters now.’ It was shocking to hear that, but I had to remember that for every mean person out there, there are 100 other supportive comments.”
“The Indian community is generally very private about health, and a lot of people didn’t understand why I was being so public with my story. The word breast is still seen as very sexual in our community, and people are ashamed to talk about it. Breasts are amazing and they serve many purposes beyond sexual functions! It’s crazy how people still view the word as taboo.
I’ve gotten tons of selfies from people getting mammograms, telling me they’ve been putting this off for so long and they’re doing it now because of me. If this can happen to a 38 year old mother of two, this can happen to anybody. I was healthy, I ate well and exercised, and I want people to know that cancer does not discriminate. I also hope that I’ve made people realize that cancer doesn’t have to be depressive, and that you can still see grace and light in your lives.”
“My life changed almost for the better through cancer. I learned a lot about myself, and who in my life would really be there for me. I’m a better mom, spouse, and better everything.”
“My life changed almost for the better through cancer. I learned a lot about myself, and who in my life would really be there for me. I’m a better mom, spouse, and better everything. I also lost a ton of friends during this whole process and that was my own decision. It feels so good. There were so many people in my life who were negative, and I was like you’ve got to go. I had to surround myself with happy, positive people.
I was also a very type A control freak prior to my diagnosis, and during treatment I had so many people offer to help in every way. It was hard to say yes. As a mom, I felt like I was the only one who knew how to do this task or take my kids to different activities, but I had to let go and let others step in. And you know, everything turned out to be OK. Letting go was one of the best things that happened to me, and I know now that life doesn’t have to be extremely scheduled or controlled.”
“My husband was also incredible throughout the whole process. He really is a rock. I remember asking him at first if he was scared, and he told me no. He’s a facts person. Unless the doctor told him that his wife is going to die, it wasn’t even an option that crossed his mind. He came to every appointment with a billion questions. He went to my surgeon and told him that he had YouTubed the surgery I was about to get, and he talked through everything he had learned from his research. He was stronger than me, and told me to let him to do all the worrying while I fight.
Going forward, I’m not going to let the little things bug me as much as they used to. I’m going to enjoy each day and stop to smell the roses.”
“If you think something doesn’t feel right with your body, don’t be afraid to speak up. Before my first child was born, I had a miscarriage. I didn’t actually tell anybody about it, because I was so scared. But my doctor told me that one in three women have a miscarriage, and I couldn’t believe it! We need to talk about it more and not make things like this a taboo subject.”
“For those with family members or friends who are battling cancer, really be there for each other. Something I observed was that people were scared to try and help me because they didn’t know what I needed. But when they did help, they would do whatever they could and that was enough. If you could take care of my children for an hour, that was enough. Every little bit helps.
Now that I’ve been through this, I know what cancer patients like and need. I’m working on creating kits with items patients wouldn’t even know they would need, like bamboo spoons. You lose your taste buds when going through chemo, but I learned that when you eat with a bamboo spoon, it helps augment your taste sensation a bit. I look forward to bringing more of these kits to chemo centers and helping cancer patients feel a sense of comfort throughout their journey.”