‘I lost my twin to cancer… then within months discovered I had the same thing’
Her diagnosis was a secret Daksha Trivedi was determined to keep from her family. Just six months earlier, her twin brother Deepak had lost his life to oesophageal cancer – and now she had the same disease.
“I couldn’t bear to tell my mum. I didn’t want to put her through any more heartache,” says Daksha, an academic from Hertfordshire.
“For months, the only person I told was my husband, Pradip.”
Daksha’s brother had been diagnosed in September 2016, aged 62, and given 10 months to live.
“I was devastated. We were very close and although he lived in Canada, we spoke on Skype every day,” says Daksha.
In June 2017, Deepak died after the cancer spread to his stomach.
Daksha was still reeling from his death when, in December that year, she started feeling unwell. “Unlike my brother, I didn’t have any major symptoms, like heartburn or acid reflux,” she recalls. “I had bloating so my GP was investigating for IBS.”
Because of Daksha’s family history of cancer, her doctor referred her for an endoscopy – a camera passed down the throat into the stomach.
“If she hadn’t referred me, I wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale,” says Daksha. She was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
“Because of what happened to my brother, I was terrified the cancer had spread and I didn’t have long to live.”
After three months of tests Daksha discovered the cancer was still in the early stages, but it was aggressive and that March she had radical surgery.
During the nine-hour procedure, surgeons broke her ribs and collapsed her lungs, before removing her oesophagus and shaping her stomach into a tube to carry her food.
Her mother helped nurse her, but still didn’t know what was wrong. “In many Asian families, the word cancer means death. There’s an assumption your fate has already been decided.
“I felt so vulnerable and couldn’t cope with people thinking I didn’t have long left. It meant I felt very alone – I was burdened with so much I couldn’t talk about.”
But Daksha was determined to remain positive. “I tried to focus on all the things I could do that Deepak couldn’t. When he was diagnosed he’d lost hope and that was one thing I wasn’t going to lose.” She threw herself into breathing exercises and tai chi, as well as practising mindfulness and gratitude.
“I decided it wasn’t about how long I lived but how well I lived. I tried to focus on the things I could control and let go of what I could not.”
After the surgery, Daksha had to completely change her diet. “Now I eat little portions more often, as big meals make me nauseous.
“I used to live on lentils and pulses. Now I eat foods easier to digest like eggs and vegetarian cottage pies.”
Finally, several months later, Daksha told her extended family the truth. “They were supportive and understood why I’d kept it secret.”
Three years on, she is cancer free and has written a piece for the British Medical Journal about ways healthcare workers can support patients from different cultural backgrounds.
“In the Asian community, there’s a fear of judgement because illness can be seen as a consequence of karma,” she says. “Doctors should include the family in consultations to help combat misinformation.”
Daksha still misses her twin brother but is determined to live well in his memory.
“When I was first diagnosed, I had a lot of fear and anger, but I travelled from fear to hope. Life is short, so I try to enjoy every day.”