How my annual health check-up made me cancer-free

Please don’t procrastinate. Get your yearly health check-up. It’s better to find out earlier than later because cancer, like in my case, can be treated successfully if diagnosed early

Luis Miranda
Updated: Jun 21, 2024 01:36:41 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

I am beginning to worry about the Ides of February. This February, I went for my annual check-up at Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, and the ultrasound showed a tumour in my left kidney. My initial reaction was, “Oh no, not another February / March surgery!”. Until I was 60, I never spent a night in a hospital as a patient. But after I turned 60, I’ve had to go for some surgery every year. I found out in February 2022 that I needed a bypass surgery. In February 2023, I had to be operated on for a hernia. So, 2024 was my hattrick.

I immediately called up a friend, Dr Ian D’Souza, who suggested that I contact an oncologist at Lilavati Hospital. I met him the next day and got a CT scan done, which confirmed the encapsulated tumour. That evening, we had some friends over for dinner, and one of them, Dr Robin Pinto, said I should talk to Dr Anup Ramani. He immediately called him and set up an appointment for the next day. We met the doctor on Saturday morning, and after looking at the papers, he was pretty sure that this would be malignant and suggested that I should remove not only the tumour but also the kidney. We agreed on it, and the date was set for a few days later since I had to get off my blood thinners.

I was supposed to check into the hospital on a Friday when something bizarre happened. I was fast asleep when I suddenly got a message in my dreams at 5 am, “Luis, have you stopped the wrong medication?” I woke up in a panic, checked my medication and realised that I had screwed up big time—I had stopped my statin instead of the blood thinner. Fiona, my wife, has never seen me so flustered. I immediately messaged the surgeon, who calmly replied, “Relax. We will do it a week later.” I still do not know who sent me that message at 5 am, but that person clearly avoided creating a lot of chaos on the operating table.

So, a week later, I checked into Saifee Hospital, got the tumour and kidney removed, and went home two days later. The tumour ended up being 6 cm in size, and the biopsy showed it was a low-grade malignant tumour. I was lucky to catch it in time. The surgeon said that I was all clear and I didn’t require any chemotherapy or radiation. I have to do a CT scan a year later and send him the results.

Also Read: How particle physics is pushing cancer treatment boundaries

The big lesson for me and everyone is the importance of annual check-ups, especially as we get older. In 2022, I found out about blocked arteries when I went for a check-up at Hinduja Hospital, and again this year, I found out about my kidney tumour when I went for my health check-up. I had no symptoms at all, and I am still amazed at how I had no discomfort despite having something so big inside me.

Another lesson for me is also the importance of gratitude. I am so fortunate. Firstly, to have identified the problem early enough before any metastasis. Secondly, to have a network of friends who can connect me to the best possible doctors in the city. Thirdly, to have the financial means or insurance to afford top quality treatment (full disclosure: I chair a health insurance company, ManipalCigna Health Insurance). Many years ago, a dear friend passed away from cancer. She told me a few months before she died, “Luis, I quickly stopped asking, ‘Why me?’ because I realised that when things were going great, I never asked, ‘Why me?’” I survived cancer without having to go through months of chemo or radiation. I was lucky.

I recently caught up with a friend who is recovering from a much more severe type of cancer—chondrosarcoma. His surgery took thirteen hours, and his recovery period will take around six to nine months. We were both talking about how lucky we are for not having to undergo chemo or radiation. I sometimes feel like a fake survivor because I had a cancer-lite version. The whole period from identification to recovery was just three weeks. Maybe having a positive attitude helps. Fiona and the kids clearly went through a lot more stress than I did.

It also makes one realise the need for more accessible and affordable healthcare, including diagnostics for early detection. There are so many others who are struggling with more advanced or complicated bouts of cancer and other illnesses. We need policies to make early detection and treatment more affordable and accessible.

So please don’t procrastinate. Get your annual health check-up. Some of us are busy with work and push getting our check-ups done. Some of us are scared to find out the truth—it’s better to find out earlier than later because cancer, like in my case, can be treated successfully if treated early.

The writer is a co-founder of the Indian School of Public Policy.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

Check out our end of season subscription discounts with a Moneycontrol pro subscription absolutely free. Use code EOSO2021. Click here for details.