‘Music Has Kept Me Going & Staying Alive’ says 48-years-old Breast Cancer Survivor Kodiyalchi Smt Surekha Pai

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‘Music Has Kept Me Going & Staying Alive’ says 48-years-old Breast Cancer Survivor Kodiyalchi Goud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) Smt Surekha Pai

Mangaluru: She is not so Old, nor she is not so Young, but She is in her middle age of 40 plus, where life seems to be still everlasting. Even though being at this stage of life, you can still feel almost invincible—like nothing will ever slow you down or stop you from achieving your dreams. But unfortunately, for Kodiyalchi Goud Saraswat Brahmin 48-years-old Smt Surekha Pai, a B Com graduate from Mumbai University, the ease of her middle-age came to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 when she was 42. But what kept her going through this journey suffering from Breast Cancer, was Music- which has kept her happy and alive!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything,” said Plato. This quote is what Surekha Pai, a cancer Survivor feels is perfect to describe Music. Diagnosed with Metastatic Breast cancer in the year 2016, Surekha Pai and her family were devastated. Pain and fear a constant companion to her, she sought solace in Music, which once was her passion. Surekha hails from a Goud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) family and spent her life mostly in Mumbai, where she used to sing at her family or the building social get-together. Bhajans or Bollywood songs, Music to her was everything. But like every other woman, the family became her priority and Music took a backseat. But when life took a turn for the worse due to her illnesses, she sought hope through Music. While Chemotherapy was healing her body, she healed her mind and soul through Music.

Regarding CANCER- Let’s say someday (God forbid) you are diagnosed with cancer. And as planned, you are ready for it- you have the strength and energy to bear the pain and rush to the hospital at odd hours. You don’t mind the constant poking and prodding at your body and the zillion tests. You can deal with the unpleasant side effects of medication, and you have the patience to answer unending and embarrassing questions. But it’s not just you who will be affected by cancer. Your parents, your siblings, your friends and who knows, by then maybe even your spouse and children- they will all be a part of your cancer journey. They will pray for this nightmare to end and crave for normalcy to return to their lives. And if, if you lose the fight- it is your loved ones who will struggle to pick themselves back up emotionally, psychologically, economically. It will take them years to find closure- if they ever will.

Some people fight cancer with everything they have, every day that they take a breath. In the case of Ms Surekha, her Breast Cancer might have worn down her body since the day it affected her. It might have exhausted her strength-but she has been a strong lady with determination, having a hint of joyfulness and fun, a sense of self-confidence, an unmistakable kindness- and her love for MUSIC have kept her going. It was the kind of smile that drew people to her. The ravages of cancer, chemo and radiation could not wipe it from her face. If anything, her smile is still brighter and more joyous, and cancer is helpless against it.

If you look at Surekha Pai, She is doubly blessed with beauty—inside and out. Cancer can’t do anything to diminish either. Even though she is undergoing treatment, including Chemotherapy, her beauty shines through her eyes and smiles every day of her life-Cancer might have tried to take it from her, but has failed miserably-it couldn’t steal Surekha’s popularity. Her relatives and friends say that to know her was to love her and to root for her. Her music performances on stage or at the social get-together, no one entered Surekha’s orbit without being inspired by her. Her cancer has been utterly helpless to interfere and unable to break Her spirit. Her zest for life and competitive fire is still burning brightly.

Looking at her musical talents, Surekha’s confidence and adventurousness are undimmed. She has taken everything cancer could throw at her and kept going. She has endured pain that would have hobbled the toughest adult. She has found energy in the face of draining treatments. She has maintained a positive outlook in the bleakest of situations. She is brave and fighting through her cancer experience with courage, grace and dignity. And her loving husband and a daughter, this Pai family seems very inspiring- this family is an example of what family, motherhood, love, support, caring, and appreciation really means. Surekha’s unconditional love and care towards her husband and daughter have proven that she is everything a mother should be.

Born on 16 September. 1972 in Kodiyal aka Mangaluru, Surekha Pai was brought up in Mulund- Mumbai. Graduating in B.Com..from Mumbai University, she was always into singing, cooking, and reading. Her family hailed from Mumbai- her (Late) U S G Kamath, served in Syndicate Bank, and passed away due to Parkinson’s disease, while her Mother -Smt Vanmala Kamath, was a home-maker. Surekha has a brother named Ganapathi Kamath, and she has married Ganesh Pai- a businessman in Mangaluru, and has a daughter, Ritu Pai, doing her IInd PUC.

While the National Cancer Survivor Day was observed recently on 7 June, we need to take a moment to recognize the amazing people who have battled cancer, beaten it, and now give their time and energy to help others impacted. One such person is Smt Surekha Pai, who wants to spread her cancer experience and inspire others ailing from the same disease. People get so many chances in life, and this has proven to Surekha that her life wasn’t over here, she wants to overcome this and live on to share her story with others- Inspiring them to stay healthy, active, and aware that cancer can truly change a person’s life for the worst or even for the best as it did to Her.

Following close on its heels after her article (Ref: ‘God Lift My Heart In Faith Each Day’- Breast Cancer Survivor Smt Surekha Pai Shares Her Life Experiences) was published on 20 June, where Smt Surekha Pai, who was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer at the age of 42 in February 2016, and coping with life, and keeping herself busy with music/singing to overcome the sorrow and pain, and also keeping full faith in God, had shared her life experiences about her journey fighting cancer, for the last four years, in that article. She had written this article during the Breast Awareness Month in October last year, in order to bring inspiration among others who are also fighting the Cancer Battle, and while she wants her Friends to Support & Encourage her to Fight against Cancer, Team Mangalorean had an exclusive interview with Smt Surekha Pai. Following are the excerpts from the interview:         

Q: When were you diagnosed and at what age? What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and when did you receive your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer at the age of 42 in the year 2016 February. I had severe back pain since 5 or 6 months prior to Feb 2016, which led me to have an MRI -CT scan done, the scan stated it was breast cancer which had spread to my spine. 

Q: What was your response, or how did you react when the doctor told you that you had cancer? Is there a family history of breast cancer or any other cancer?

It was like a huge lightning bolt. My mind went blank for a few seconds, and I felt darkness all around me. My husband was completely broken down, possibly the first time I saw him in a helpless situation. My daughter was devastated, and my mother was no different. I was now trying to find out what it meant. Do I start counting weeks or days or hours? Then I quickly saw my husband gathering himself and informed me that there is a recovery plan that the doctors have come out with consisting of radiation, Chemotherapy and the likes. Without any further delays, the medical regime was put in place.

Regarding Family history having cancer- No, Not the immediate nor the first line of relatives that I know.

Q: Obviously, cancer puts your whole life on hold. Do you remember a specific moment when you were hit by this realization?

At a period when I should be taking care of my mother, I was now forced to completely depend on her for anything that I wanted to do. My husband, whom I used to support in his business was now beside me the whole period. My daughter, who used to throw tantrums at anything and everything was now so changed taking responsibilities and owning it up. The helplessness and dependency made me realize that my entire life has been changed now.

Q: Tell us about your treatment process? Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?

I went through seven monthly cycles of Chemotherapy initially, post that monthly Maintenance chemo for six months. As I was responding to chemo well, my doctor suggested chemo once in three months. When I did my tests again in October 2019, the tests showed a relapse this time in my liver, so my doctor put me on a medication called Palbace from past ten months, along with maintenance chemo.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of the treatments that you have experienced?

Both, Physically and Mentally: Slowly, I could feel changes in my body. Hair started falling off at a quick pace. Within a few days, it was a completely different me and image, which was so unlike me. Each of the chemotherapy cycles was very different. For about 24 to 36 hours after each session, it used to bring in so much of mood swings within me. I used to feel like a zombie. I was bound to the bed and moving around on the wheelchair for almost a year. Back braces are my companion even to date.

Financially, it has been a huge burden on my family and me, who were the financial aspect of the treatments. The treatments were not cheap and added to that the expenses of medicines and other necessities of a patient.

Q: What helped you keep your spirits up and gave you support during the treatment at the hospital or at home?

What made me go through all this phase was the positive talks by my aunt and uncle, who used to visit me daily and spend long hours with me. I used to chant a few hymns (Rama Raksha Sthothra, Vishnu Sahasranama, Hanuman Chalisa ) Also to KOSEN RUFU. The power of chanting “NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO” brings forth the power and faith, and one can manifest the power of Buddha and law within one’s life. It has indeed enlightened me. I propagate this law to everyone.

Q: Where are you now in your journey with cancer? What do you like to do in your spare time?

For the past four years and months, I have survived this cancer. I have come to realize this cancer which is a part of me is something that I have to fight and subdue. It is a fight which is constant, but I have learned to accept it. In my spare time, I like to Sing, cook for my family, and my normal activities on my own.

Q: Why do you think that Music has kept you going and alive, during this period of Cancer treatment?

During the time I was bedridden and still recovering, I came across a few of the social media Apps. Around this time, one of the Apps kind of tickled me on my passion- SINGING!. I started to use some part of my free time to sing and share it with a few friends. They encouraged me further. I got introduced to a bunch of singers from Mangaluru, most of them who have not gone through any formal music training. This became one of the turning points for me. I joined their music club, which used to meet once a month. I used to look forward to the next meet, by identifying and rehearsing a couple of my songs from my favourite list. With the humongous support from my husband, daughter, mother, close relatives and my music friends, I started getting back to my normal life slowly and steadily. While Chemotherapy healed the body, Music healed my soul.

Q: Did Cancer had any impact on your relationship with your family, your husband and your daughter? Are they all supportive?

It bought us closer as we now all know the value of being a family. Their support is the most instrumental in my fight with cancer.

Q: Can you tell us about the support you had? What was the most supportive thing done for you throughout this time?

Friends, family, relatives, even some random strangers bought in support. Be it making me comfortable at home or cooking my favourite dishes and getting it to me or communicating with me regularly or just being around, or just simple small things that they would do for me would make me grateful.

Q: What “Words of Wisdom” and/or advice would you give any women or men facing cancer or another life-threatening illness?

Well, to all people who are facing cancer or life-threatening illnesses, I have just one word to tell you, and that is “Hope”. Hope is something that gets you out from the darkest hours in your life. It gives you strength, something to look forward to. Another important thing is to seek support. Just grab on to any support you get, talk to people, discuss your concerns, do not hide anything. Sometimes you feel that by seeking support will you be a burden, well no! There is no shame in seeking support from fellow human beings.

Time is precious, so accept that cancer treatment is your new normal. Take stock of what really matters in your life, and focus your time and energy on that. Getting a diagnosis of cancer does not necessarily mean a death sentence. New treatments and new drugs are being developed every day. Have faith in the doctor treating you. If you don’t feel good about him or her, ask for another doctor. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, share opinions.

My belief: Nichiren Daishonin, who says “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy” Strengthen your power of faith more than ever. 

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  1. Great recovery. Grit, hope and confidence of which seems natural in Surekha has seen her through. Wish Surekha a long and fruitful life. Good wishes to her husband Ganesh Pai, daughter Ritu and Surekha’s mother. God bless you all.

  2. Wish you all best Surekha Madam. Keep smiling. My cousin is now 70 years, is a breast cancer servivor. She is very normal, doing her normal activities, cooking, travelling to Australia, Bangalore.

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