United Against Cancer
Over the last few years, there has been a sea change in how we look at cancer. There was a time when people would almost feel ashamed to admit that they had cancer. Thankfully the scenario has changed nowadays. Cancer is no longer a dreaded six-letter-word that has to be said in hushed tones and muffled voices. There are even support groups; not just for the person battling it but also for their family members. Irrfan Khan, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, Nafisa Ali, are few warriors who are fighting the dreaded disease.
On World Cancer Day, here are some words of encouragement, cheer, and wisdom to help keep those warring cancer – from a few warrior women who have been there, done that, or are there, and doing that!
Manisha Koirala’s social media handles are replete with images of living well – especially living healthy. Whether it is tips on the best food to eat or ideas for a healthy lifestyle, Manisha is happy to share them all. Manisha was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, for which she underwent a gruelling treatment for six months in USA.
Freed from the clutches of the disease, thankfully, the actress chose to come back with an indie film, Dear Maya (in 2017) and more recently, Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju, inspired by the life of Sanjay Dutt, playing the role of Nargis Dutt.
Ask her about her journey with cancer (which she has also recently documented in a book), she says, “Cancer changes people. There is a dagger over your head for a long period of time, which you do not know when it’s going to fall on you. You do not know if that long treatment, of a minimum of six months, will get you out of the tunnel, and you’ll be fine and healed. You cannot be sure of that. What if it re-occurs? What if it relapses? This prolonged period of uncertainty is the catalyst in transforming people and it is unlike other diseases which you undergo. For example, you undergo a heart surgery and you’re fine; so it’s different. There is a physical angle to it since you are in pain and you look quite sad and pathetic because your eyebrows and hair are all gone. And it happens quite fast! I would wake up with clumps of hair on my pillow and I would scream in fear! When I came out at the other end, if there was anything joyful, I would make the most of that moment. I literally started seeing joy in small things like walking on the grass, the breeze on my face, looking out of my bed at the sky and clouds, sunsets and sunrises — I started noticing small things, because I wasn’t sure if I would be alive to see another sunrise or sunset. The very same things that you take for granted, you begin to value when you have stared at death. My advice to anyone fighting this disease is to keep the spirits up. You can’t be beaten if you are not beaten!”
Acknowledging that the fight is not easy, Manisha says, “Now I sound like it was all okay but when I was living those days, they were hell. For me and for those around me. Yes there were times when I felt like throwing in the towel. That I had had enough! But I had my mother; she would be crying in the other room but never in front of me. I remember I was in agony one day and my bones were hurting very bad. Even the painkillers could not help. I told my mom I really can’t go through this, and if by being alive, I have to endure this kind of pain, I’d rather die. She really scolded me and said: “If you are in our lives, if anything happens to you…how can you even think like that! Think of the good things and make them manifest.” That made sense to me. We are, after all, what we think. Mom really put sense into me – like moms do all the time! (Laughs). My mom, dad and brother were by my side and never for a moment did they let me think that I was fighting a lonely battle. That also kept me going. So the support of your friends and family really is vital.”
Tahira Kashyap Khurrana
Author, filmmaker and wife of actor Ayushmann Khurrana was diagnosed with stage 0 DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in her right breast with high-grade malignant cells. This later developed into Stage 1 cancer. But Tahira refused to buckle in, celebrating her never-say-die attitude in social media posts, tonsuring her head (which she called “liberating”) and walking the ramp last week at Lakme Fashion Week.
Talking about her ongoing battle, Tahira says, “I was diagnosed in 2018 on Ayushmann’s birthday that is on September 14. A series of tests – an ultrasound, a mammogram, a biopsy and an MRI – was recommended. So I will be honest and confess I did panic. Post the diagnosis, we decided to deal with the Big C with positivity and decided to strap on our boots tightly. Rather than go home and worry about it, we went to see a movie the very same evening and finalised the date for my mastectomy. We both knew we are not going to give in and so we chose to be happy in general. Also my birthday was several steps ahead of where we had come from, so the celebrations had to be grand! I am glad to have a tribe that is strong enough to keep me propped up – my family, my children, my friends – and I owe it to them to fight and not give up! The cancer has given me a new definition of life. Respect its unpredictability and have the faith and courage to be the hero of your own drama of life. That’s what you do when cancer shows up. Show it the way out!”
Last week, Sonali Bendre celebrated her return to the sets with an inspiring post on Instagram. The actor and reality show judge was in US for treatment of metastatic cancer for almost a year before she came home free of the disease. Aware that cancer has a bad reputation of returning, Sonali says she is more prepared than afraid. But this is what she has to say about her battle and victory over the disease:
“Yes, I was afraid. But I also knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. I had good days and bad ones. There were many days when I was so exhausted and in so much pain that even lifting a finger hurt, where even just laughing hurt. I got through it knowing that even though I was fighting a long drawn out, draining battle… it was one that was worth the fight. It’s important to remember that we’re allowed to have those bad days. Forcing yourself to be happy and cheerful all the time serves no purpose. Who are we being fake and putting on an act for? I allowed myself to cry, to feel the pain, to indulge in self-pity… for a short while. Only you know what you’re going through and it is fine to accept it. Emotions aren’t wrong. Feeling negative emotions isn’t wrong. But after a point, identify it, recognize it and refuse to let it control your life.
It takes an immense amount of self-care to get out of that zone. Sleep always helped, or having my favourite smoothie after chemo, or just talking to my son.
For now, and I hope for good, it is behind me. My focus is on getting my strength back, getting my health back. Reclaiming my life and living each day, each moment fully.”