Smita Subramanian
Malignant Germ Cell Tumor of the Ovary

14 Years Old at Diagnosis

I have contemplated for years over deciding whether I should share with others my personal experience with the big C(ancer) or not. The thing that always discouraged me was the fear of change in attitude towards me... Sympathy was a big NO for me; empathy was however acceptable! But today I really wish to share my story because I am sure that it will only instill positivity in people faced with the unwelcome advent of cancer in their lives or those who have recently overcome the hurdle and filled with apprehension of years to come and their tryst with this disease. My story should only put to rest all worries and optimistically provide an additional therapeutic approach besides the needles and drugs!

Today, a day in my life is pretty exciting. I leave for work each day with a smile on my face, a spring in my step and of course the bitter-sweet "Please don't go today, mommy" look from my 6 month-old daughter. But I have to. I have to because I work for Children's Oncology Group – a group dedicated to treating childhood cancers and I contribute towards that in my own small way! You may have guessed that it was not sheer coincidence that I work for this organization, it was a planned move. I had graduated from USC with masters in cancer biology and was looking for full-time employment with a determination to work towards cancer eradication... what better place there could be! Here I have been given a chance to do what I always wanted to do and in a set-up that I had a personal attachment with - childhood cancer!

Going into flashback, it was a day 17 years ago in Bombay, India. A 14-yr old girl was all set to plan her summer holidays and start packing for the many imminent vacations & trips. That was me! I felt a sharp, pricking pain on the right side of my abdomen and I thought to myself "Here it goes again! No worries it will go away in a minute or two just like it always does!" (Note my first mistake of not addressing it earlier or even letting my parents know!) But the pain did not subside and only got worse to the point that I passed out! After a lot of misdiagnoses like appendicitis, UTI, puberty-related etc., I was admitted to the hospital for a CT scan which revealed the culprit! A voluminous mass stuck to my right ovary. Fast-forwarding a few months, I was being discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of malignant germ cell tumor of the ovary, undergone a unilateral salpingo-oopherectomy and having completed my last round of chemotherapy post recurrence! Phew! It was really not as bad as it sounds.

What transpired at the end of it all is what matters! And not necessarily to the body but to the mind! I was a changed person. Definitely much more mature than any other new teenager but it absolutely need not imply that I did not have fun in those teen years! I had tremendous support from friends and family and was spoilt and pampered to no bounds by my parents and big sister!

So now looking back, I have tons of things to be thankful for and wish that each one of you also should! Remember all the good gestures shown towards you and do not fail to reciprocate at every chance presented to you. That includes your support system, the ones by your side in those dark times. What I really want to do now is let you in on my secret, share with you the thing I administered to myself without letting the doctors and family know! And honestly, I do not have the faintest clue where I got it from!

And that is my friends, a positive attitude and a smiling disposition! I am not basing this on books I read or sermons I heard that advised me to adopt that thinking. It just happened. All I knew then was that my family is doing all the crying and worrying on my behalf, the least I can do is not add to it. They help me so I help them! Help them cope! I was not a prodigious child of sorts, just a loving daughter and above all, an enthusiastic teenager at the brink of adolescence waiting for all the fun to begin and all fairy tales to come true and most importantly, some goals to achieve!

So dear readers, if you are a patient, a survivor, a parent, a volunteer or even a cancer supporter, remember to emphasize on the benefits of just being positive, believe in the therapy, smile or laugh for just a little while every day, hug your family, have normal non-cancer centric conversations, envision life in a few years from the day on the bed and you are good-to-go!! Literally, get out of the cancer zone and lead a normal life.

You have to be super strong in painful times and for which focus all your thoughts on that one constant thing in your life. For me it was my mom after God whose face I would imagine with closed eyes, be it at times of surgery, injections, chemotherapy and all the not-so-fun things that comes with the package! I do understand today after delving deeper into the different aspects of this disease that the outcomes can vary and the road can be very difficult for different people, but in the end, just believe that ‘All will be well soon'!

I am sure it would only help for everyone to know that I am cancer-free for 16 years and for those few who tried to spread pessimistic thoughts...including me when I first heard the news – "In your face!" I successfully pursued my post-graduate studies, found my soul mate as soon as I stepped out of the dark cloud and this year received my most awaited reward for being strong back then in the form of my beautiful daughter, Smivika! Besides all of these achievements, I also play, sing, bike, hike, party, cook, run, dance and fit seamlessly into the world around me.


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