Lois Bhatt, author of “I’m Sorry You Have to be Here,” silenced her listeners Nov. 7 as she described her fight against breast cancer.
“Radiation is a horrible process,” Bhatt said. “I was just a number — It was very cold, very impersonal.”
At a Silliman College Master’s Tea, Bhatt, a former administrative assistant at the Silliman College Master’s Office, recounted her experience with breast cancer and talked about her book, in which she describes the effects her cancer diagnosis had on her family.
“[My book is about] how cancer changed a family; what the dynamics of the family were and how they changed,” said Bhatt, who was diagnosed seven years ago.
The title of her book comes from the words her oncologist spoke to her when she first met him. Bhatt said the doctor’s empathy instantly made her trust him.
When Bhatt was diagnosed, she had two young children and a husband. While her son was too young to know of the problem, her daughter was aware of it, Bhatt said.
“I remember the night when Mom said we had cancer,” Bhatt said, restating her daughter’s words.
The family, Bhatt said, did get cancer, as all members of the family had to deal with the illness. Bhatt said she was concerned for the well-being of her children, especially because there was the possibility she would die.
“Would they remember me?” Bhatt said. “Who’s going to raise them?”
Bhatt said she felt it was important not to shut her daughter out of her fight for survival. Bhatt said she described the cancer to her daughter in simple terms.
“I have some bad guys in my breast, and they need to be removed,” Bhatt said. “Special medicine [is] going to make my hair fall out.”
Bhatt also emphasized that doctors and other medical personnel who did not treat her like a statistic had a large impact on her will to fight.
“I know a lot of you are planning to go into the medical profession,” she said. “And I want to stress how important it is to treat the patient as well as the disease.”
Bhatt read from her book about an instance when she felt she was treated as a body with a disease rather than as a person. Bhatt was made to undress in front of several people during an examination, which she said intimidated her and made her feel like a stripper. Bhatt said she wonders why she did not ask the people to turn around. She said she believes it was a result of her vulnerability.
Silliman College Master Judith Krauss, former dean of the Yale School of Nursing, said she encouraged Bhatt to give the talk as a Master’s Tea rather than as a lecture at the nursing school.
“I think it’s important that undergraduates appreciate issues of women’s health,” Krauss said. “They need to feel comfortable talking about it.”
Adam Torres ’06 said he was interested in the talk because he wanted to hear an inspirational story.
“My mother’s best friend died of breast cancer,” Torres said. “I’ve never really been fortunate enough to listen to anyone who survived breast cancer — Most people aren’t fortunate enough to survive it.”
Darrow Vanderburgh-Wertz ’06 said she felt the talk was effective.
“She was a very powerful storyteller,” Vanderburgh-Wertz said. “It’s an important story to get out there. The fact that she focused on family — is important for other people dealing with cancer.”