Meet Atima, product director at GlaxoSmithKline, mom of two lovely twins and a successful social media influencer. Sounds great – but you may wonder what’s exceptional about that. You will know why, when I tell you that she has achieved all this despite living in excruciating, debilitating pain for the past thirty years and while we are at it, let’s also throw in partial deafness, facial palsy, breast cancer and a host of other illnesses into the mix. Her staunch fight through her illnesses and refusal to give in is truly inspiring.
A Painful Teenage
Atima was born in India, brought up in the U.K by her mom – a strong individual who she modeled herself after. She had a happy childhood, loved academics and art, enjoyed school. The first blip appeared when she started periods at the age of ten. “I would be sent home in pain very often. But the school nurse believed it was normal and part of growing up. Little did I know it would get a lot worse later in life”.
Within 5 years the pain became so intense that she started dreading her periods. She would have bad cramps and fainting spells in public brought on by the severe pain. For the lack of any clear diagnosis, her GP put her on birth control. This lessened her pain but did not stop it. Unfortunately, there was no further investigation to find the real reason behind this kind of pain. “It was a case of ‘some women just have this, there you go, go on the pill’. I didn’t know enough to question it. I was on and off it for the next 15 years, and whenever I came off it, my symptoms would flare up again. And I was simply told to go back on the pill.“
Life Goes On…
Atima learnt to live with the pain, normalized it and continued working her way through school and college. She always had a leaning towards arts and languages and chose to study graphic design at the University. A few years down the line, she decided to change track. She figured that in Arts, one’s success is not only dependent on hard work but more on luck of the draw and who you knew. Atima preferred her own hard work to destiny. And this is the first glimpse you get into her determined character – her determination to succeed despite odds.
She saw how well her brother Unmukt was doing in the tech field and decided to switch gears. Not surprisingly the selection committee gave a her a special test before they allowed her to go in a totally different direction. She passed the test and didn’t look back after that.
Things Get Worse
Just when Atima felt that life was back on track, she started to go deaf in her left ear, at the age of 25. It took multiple analyses and four years to diagnose her condition. In these four years, she had found a job, her soulmate and gotten married.
The diagnosis was not pretty. She had otosclerosis and had two choices – go deaf or get operated – the latter presented its own significant risks. The choice was obvious since most of these risks are rare – “after all I can’t be one of those rarely unfortunate people”. She was. She realized something was terribly wrong when hours after the surgery she could not get any feeling or movement on her left side. She was horrified when a droopy left side looked back at her from the mirror. This was the start of her facial palsy journey.
She just couldn’t stop crying. “I felt dead inside. After having suffered years of health problems I had had enough, and I didn’t know where to turn or what to do.” While her hearing continued to improve, there was no improvement in her facial muscles. Doctors recommended waiting for nerves to heal. They didn’t. Joining back work was a relief, but even there the looks of sympathy she received were killing her. “I didn’t want to show my face to people, I wanted to hide away. As time passed, I got more and more angry. Angry at god, angry at my family, angry at my boyfriend, just angry overall.”
Some good news, more sickness and an indomitable spirit
Three months after her surgery, Atima discovered she was pregnant. With twins. The pregnancy brought happiness but also more sickness and stress. She had severe vomiting through most of her pregnancy. By now, Atima was buckling under the pressure. “Facial Palsy, going deaf in my other ear, high risk twin pregnancy, constant sickness!! I found myself withdrawing from the world. I didn’t want to do anything, see anyone. I just wanted my smile back and to feel normal again.”
All this time she was also seeing her ENT consultants and after a lot of pushing, she was able to start her facial rehab journey just before her twins arrived. Things improved faster after that. Along with facial therapy she also started receiving botox treatment which made a big difference and helped a lot in bringing back her confidence. Taking care of premature twins also left no time for self-pity.
Meanwhile, Atima started something new. Inspired by beautiful nail art on Instagram, Atima decided to take it up as a hobby and being the perfectionist she is, in no time not only grew a large follower base but also got picked up by some big names in the industry. Her success on Instagram also helped build back her low confidence and diverted her mind from her ill health.
So, hopefully all good on period pain now?
Actually, no. After her pregnancy, periods returned within a few months, worse than ever. Doctors prescribed a Progesterone only Pill (POP) which completely stopped her periods! It left her feeling numb, she lost her sex drive and had no desire whatsoever to do anything. Enough was enough she thought, “I cannot be on medication for the rest my life” and got off the medication for good.
Life turned upside down once again. She had pains even on no period days. Her moods became erratic, she would lash out at anyone and everything. She visited her GP once more – this time she wanted a diagnosis.
“I was sick of being sick. Over the years, I had dealt with so many health issues, I was fed up with it all and with life in general. I had been to the doctors so many times, been put on the pill, been told I had IBS, lactose intolerance, gastrointestinal disorder, but nothing I was treated for helped, and that was because I was being misdiagnosed.”
Tired of the misdiagnosis, she demanded being referred to a gynecologist (I was surprised why she didn’t go in the first place, but this is how NHS works in the UK). Finally, she met a gynecologist who seemed to understand, and her diagnosis journey began. She ended up getting two diagnoses – her pains were likely due to endometriosis and analyses also discovered early-stage breast cancer.
The ‘C’ word scares us all, and I asked her how the double diagnosis affected her. Her pain had dictated her life so much that she was just happy to get a diagnosis. As for the cancer, she just wanted to get done with the treatment so that she could get back to being treated for endometriosis.
After her breast cancer treatment, Atima had a laparoscopy which confirmed stage IV endometriosis. Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of it and can spread to other organs as well. Her diagnosis meant that the endometrial tissue had spread wide and deep within her body. Unfortunately, there is no cure, deep excision surgery is the only thing that can get rid of endometriosis. It may grow back, it may not.
Atima says that this experience and disease has left her with physical and mental scars. “I was also diagnosed with adenomyosis, so I will never really be pain free. The endo has caused my uterus to be pulled to the left of my body, my uterus is double the size of a normal woman’s and retroverted, I still have bowel issues.” But she is happy that after the laparoscopy her pain is much lesser.
The strength within and the outside support
More often than not, it takes just one serious or chronic illness to derail someone and I am amazed how Atima has been fighting not one but at least 4 major illnesses and a host of other health issues. And at the same time going from strength to strength in her profession, establishing a nail art social media presence with 120k plus followers and of course bringing up two darling twins.
“I can’t even imagine how you continue to do this Atima!!”, I exclaimed, as we spoke. It has not been easy at all, she agrees, and it has taken superhuman effort to maintain sanity. “It’s easy to slip into negative thoughts when you are in so much pain. When I feel I am letting it get to me, I try to focus on all the good in my life because I have a lot to be grateful for. I think about my family and my girls – they are what keep me going. Knowing they need me to be there, keeps me going. Knowing I want them to deal with life in a positive way helps me come out of negative thoughts.”
She is right. At our lowest points in life, it is gratitude and our inner strength that help pull us up. Atima’s family has helped her get through difficult times. She draws strength from her strong mother, who she saw raising two children as a single parent. Her husband, who has been with her through the worst of her times, is a pillar of support. It has not been easy for him to see her in so much pain but he has stood by in staunch support – from taking her for every doctor’s visit to picking up all the work she cannot finish, to being understanding of her mood swings. Her little girls too (now 10) try their best to understand what their mom is going through and help as much as possible.
Atima is also very grateful to her immensely supportive organization that helped her achieve her potential. “My employer, GlaxoSmithKline has been fantastic.” “From the beginning, I established a strong track record, so when the need came, I was given full support, without questioning. My managers were always understanding. I had flexi hours. There was no pressure of coming back to work. If I hadn’t had that I wouldn’t have progressed.” Moreover, counselling support from her employer was a life saver when she was dealing with facial palsy.
“The only real cure for my pain is hysterectomy which addresses the adenomyosis but that comes with its own risks. I would rather let nature take its own course”, says Atima. Though she is much better now, no one knows if this would come back. Endometriosis is like a benign cancer. It spreads through your lungs, liver, can even glue your organs together. She is aware of the risks and is also looking at the practical side of “what if I am not there for my daughters” and making sure they are prepared to handle that eventuality as well.
Meanwhile she is doing her best to raise awareness about endometriosis and facial palsy through her social media so that other don’t suffer as much as she has. I am trying to do my bit to spread this awareness and wishing Atima a long healthy and pain free life going forward. Hugs to you! You Go Girl!! May you be an inspiration to everyone fighting pain and illness!
For information on endometriosis, please see below:
I hope you were as inspired by Atima’s story as I was. Please read, comment and share. And if you have been inspired by a woman, let me know, so I can write about them too!
If you would like to read about other inspiring women I have written about, please click here.
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Regards, Sakshi aka tripleamommy
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