Lata Mohan tackles life's challenges with grace and humor. In 2012, when a colonoscopy revealed a large tumor in her colon, Mohan's children launched an exhaustive search for the best possible surgeon to treat her. When the family met with Dr. Madhulika Varma, they clicked immediately.
Describe your life before your diagnosis.
I was living with my daughter and surrounded by my family, including my children and two grandchildren. My husband had been very ill, and I was the one who took care of him. I felt like I could do it all. It never crossed my mind that something might happen to me.
What were your first indications that something was wrong?
I noticed some minor bleeding in my stool, which I ignored for some time. I also felt pressure to move my bowels but when I went to the restroom I could not empty my bowels properly. The bleeding increased a bit and I had an unusual feeling, as though there was an obstruction in my colon keeping me from passing stool fully.
That is when I decided to open up about it to my doctor, who ordered a colonoscopy immediately. It was discovered that I had colon cancer.
Why did you choose to come to UCSF?
My three children and I were devastated on hearing the results of the colonoscopy. My middle daughter, who lives in India, immediately came to be by my side. My children did a lot of research through friends, the internet and doctors they knew. We shortlisted Stanford and UCSF and chose UCSF.
Why do you think you clicked so well with Dr. Varma?
We liked her immediately. Her personality is charming and comforting. We were confident that we were in the best hands. She was very patient and answered all of our questions with thoughtfulness and care.
Describe your overall experience at UCSF.
The surgery was very successful. My post-surgical care was superb. The doctors visited me three to four times a day and the nursing staff kept my spirits up. Each of them had a cheerful disposition despite having such a demanding job. They made me feel special and cared for.
After Dr. Varma removed the tumor, they sent it out for all the lab work. That's when they discovered that the cancer was stage one. I had an appointment with Dr. Varma after the surgery and she said, "The good news is that you don't need to visit me anymore."
How are you feeling now?
I was determined to bounce back and live a normal life after my treatment. By God's grace, everything is good now and I am feeling healthy. There were a few realities I had to work around, like a shorter colon, but things are nearly normal now. If I don't disclose I have been operated on for cancer, no one would know.
How has your life changed since your diagnosis?
I have to go for periodic blood tests and I have a colonoscopy every year, but otherwise I feel very good. Since my diagnosis, I have realized how fragile life can be. I appreciate each day more than before, and I am more giving and large-hearted in my daily interactions. Most of all I'm grateful for my loving family.
What advice would you give to other patients?
Stay active. Be positive. Take care of your health. And have faith in yourself.
Interviewed July 2014 by Catherine Guthrie.