Culture

Positivity goes a long way, says this cancer survivor

A cancer diagnosis is never easy

My father passed away from cancer two years before I was detected with it in December 2012. From his diagnosis to his death, it was a span of just five weeks. We were a family in shock and just about coming to terms with what had happened, when a tarot reading indicated I had a “serious health issue” in my chest. My gynaecologist found a lump, but when the scans, tests and second and third opinions all returned inconclusive results, I called my tarot reader in anger about the wild goose chase she had sent me on. She snapped, and said, “I see cancer.” I had yet another biopsy done, at a different hospital this time, and it was confirmed.

First, my world fell apart. I envisioned an unending period of darkness and despair. I had just turned 40 and had a thriving work life, and now everything was going to change forever. But then, I decided I needed to face it head-on. My mum and sister were still fragile with what my family had been through with my father. I had responsibilities at work, too. Feeling sorry for myself wasn’t an option.

The six-month treatment was gruelling. The loss of my long, thick hair was devastating. My nausea was pretty bad, and I felt weak. My skin changed colour and I suffered from terrible mouth ulcers. I didn’t recognise myself. But once again, I snapped into action. I got a wig, and went to M.A.C, where they taught me to draw my eyebrows and line my eyes, so as to conceal the lack of lashes. I started feeling confident again.

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Luckily, for me, I had immense support from my family and friends. I couldn’t believe the way people gave their time to just be there for me. The gratitude I felt—and still feel—is enormous. My respect for the medical profession has increased manifold, too. I meet my wonderful surgeon Dr Kanchan Kaur and oncologist Dr Vaid at Medanta Medicity hospital in Gurugram every three months, to discuss my progress. They, along with my friend, Dr Sidharth Sahni, a breast surgeon, always lend me a patient, attentive ear.

But the greatest thing that came out of this experience was my discovery of the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. I had tried every diet, removed food groups, and literally tortured myself till I saw the reasoning in Ayurveda. My journey started with Dr Kristine Jerome and continues with Dr Uppoor, both Ayurvedic doctors. I have been practising it as a form of alternative healing for the past four years now—and I would urge people to give it a serious thought on their road to recovery.

With breast cancer that is ER/PR positive (slower-growing and sensitive to hormone therapies), the treatment does not end with chemotherapy and radiation. The medication continues for between five to 10 years. That means there is a daily reminder of what one is fighting and surviving. I live from scan to scan, and the fear really never leaves. But an attitude of positivity, as clichéd as it sounds, goes a long way. Work is a healer; love from family and friends, a balm. Over the last five years, I got to meet and work with other survivors like myself and have made lifelong friends. After all, this has been a life-altering journey—for the better.

Photograph: Anubhav Sood

Styling: Pujarini Ghosh

Hair and Make-up: Blossom Kochhar College of Creative Arts

Outfit: Cotton dress, Kumar's own. Khadi jacket, Rs 18,000, Eka