Alive & Unedited: Medha Deoras-Sutliff
In 1992, when Medha Deoras-Sutliff was diagnosed with breast cancer, victims in their twenties and thirties didn't have many places to turn. Nearly two decades later, groups like the Young Survival Coalition have filled that void, letting young women know they're not alone. Deoras-Sutliff, who now volunteers with the coalition's Columbus chapter, shared more about beating the disease and helping others do the same.
My family is originally from India. I was a year old when we emigrated here. A lot of my family is there still - cousins, aunts, uncles. My dad was a physician, and in the '60s, there was a big wave of emigration because the United States needed doctors.
We settled in the Midwest. Eventually, I went to Knox College, a private liberal arts school in Illinois. I came to Ohio State for graduate school in preventative medicine. I met my husband, Gary, there. We were in the same class.
The first time I was diagnosed was right after we got married in 1992. It was on a routine exam with my OB-GYN. We felt a lump. It felt a little different, so he sent me to a surgeon. When they took the lump out, on the margins they found some suspicious cells. It was technically Stage 0. At that time, the surgery was considered sufficient.
At that time, it wasn't like it is now. You didn't have the Komen foundation. You didn't have all the pink ribbons. Breast cancer in the early '90s was still a disease of older women. There were very few younger women being diagnosed.
Fast forward 13 years and four children, I was diagnosed again in 2005. A few weeks after the birth of my youngest daughter, in the same area where I had the initial surgery, I noticed a change while nursing her. On the biopsy, it was diagnosed as Stage 1 with an invasive component. I had a mastectomy with reconstruction on one side, and I did chemotherapy.
The best advice I can give to young women who are diagnosed is to reach out to someone or some organization for information and help. Things happen so quickly when you're diagnosed. Everything stops. It's really easy to turn inside and close up.
On a local level, the Young Survival Coalition has a grant that helps fund support groups for younger women. The support area is a big part of the programming. Then we hold a quarterly educational event or conference. We also do what we call You Are Not Alone events. These are just social, one night to get together and see old friends.
When you meet other survivors, it's as if you've been friends for a long time. It's such a good feeling. You don't have to start from page one. Nobody else can understand except someone who's been through it.
Three things I can't live without are coffee, my BlackBerry and family.
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