When I saw that image of the waif-like, beautiful Sonali Bendre Behl walking up to her car, bravely after being freshly diagnosed with Cancer, my heart went out to her. The monster of Cancer has dug its fangs into another victim, I grieved!

Having battled with it twice, I knew every emotion she must have gone through– denial, fear, anger, shock, before the final acceptance.

For me, it had been a lonely, terrifying battle. The only way I could put order back into my unrecognizable, broken world was by writing about it. I needed to create my own reality. A new world order, so to speak. Each person, I guess, needs to find her own coping mechanism. Writing was mine.

Now that I am a happy, joyous Survivor, I thank Cancer for coming into my life and making me the person I have become.

Here are a few lessons learned along the rocky journey during which I bruised my knees and skinned my elbows several times along the way.  I pray you never need to use them.  But if you do, it might just serve as a handy Map or a First Aid Kit.

Become Selfish

It distresses me immensely that Indian women place their own health as the last priority in their family’s scheme of things. Is it because we glorify sacrificing, selfless creatures as “ideal” Indian women?

What a shame if you, as a woman, buy into this nonsense. Why are you less than any of the progeny you have given birth to? Or the man of the house for that matter? The danger of believing this patriarchal hogwash is that women go to a doctor to check that “niggling  pain” in their body after the entire family’s schedules, demands and quirks have been met and done with.

Very often, when the woman finally does go to the doctor, it is too late. The Cancer has advanced beyond control.  Ironically, most Cancers, particularly Breast and Cervical can be completely eradicated if caught early.

What glory is there in becoming a sacrificial lamb at the family’s altar?

Go on girl! Rewrite the rules. Become ruthlessly selfish!

Punching Cancer Neelam Kumar
Neelam Kumar

Listen to Your Body

We are bombarded on all sides by the din, chaos, noise so much that we forget to listen to what our body is whispering to us. Our lives have become so task-oriented that most of us either become walking robots or screaming maniacs, rushing from one appointment to another.

Your body is an intelligent machine and it has a lot to say. Each aching joint, headache, back pain comes to us as a reminder that we have become deaf to the signals the body is sending us.  Can you please dump that stress for a while and slow down? Would you mind pausing and tuning into your beautiful body? Is it telling you that lump in the breast cannot wait to be checked out until the weekend? If so, go with the flow. Calmly, but immediately.

Become friends with your body and it will befriend you back. Can you send it a friend request today?

 Choose Lightning Speed as your Health Mantra

Hats off to Sonali Bendre Behl for acting with lightning speed once she was diagnosed with Cancer. No, she did not wallow in self-pity. Instead, she took immediate and the best action possible.

I have little knowledge of the kind of Cancer she is battling with, because my battle was with Breast Cancer. Now that’s a cunning monster that sneaks into you when you least expect it to. Worse, it gives no prior warning. All I can say is that I got saved because I do my  breast self-exam and get my mammograms done regularly. So, when I discovered this strange hardening on one side of the breast, I rushed to the best doctor at Tata Memorial Hospital to have it checked out and operated on.  I am alive today because I acted with lightning speed.

Sisters, can you do so too?

Dip into yourself

I truly believe that each one of us has been created in the image of the Universe. We have amazing resources inside us to handle anything life throws at us.

Life is not an easy game to handle, though. There will be disappointments, illnesses, deaths, break-ups and the worst unimaginable outcomes to the most beautiful expectations. But thank God, we humans also come pre-fitted with a software that can make us triumph over all this. A strong human spirit—an incredibly powerful inner core.

Many people activate this gift through Meditation; others through various forms of Spirituality. My way was through Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhist chant of the Lotus Sutra. Armed with this, I have fought many impossibly bloody battles of Life, including two Cancers and guess what? Have won, as promised and guaranteed by the Mystic Law.

So why not find your Spiritual core and empower yourself with it?

Polish your Attitude daily

I love what Bendre said before leaving for treatment, “Sometimes when you least expect it, life throws you a curveball….I am taking this battle head on, knowing I have the strength of my family and friends behind me.”

All I could say was, “Bravo girl! Way to go!”

I have long believed that Cancer is a mind game. Once you win the battle in your mind, your body will cooperate. It finally boils down to cultivating the right attitude. And, I cannot stress the importance of polishing your attitude daily.

We, in India are a fatalistic, pessimistic society. Most of the time we sigh, resign and dwell on the negative. For us, Cancer is still a death sentence.

The reverse, however, is true. More people are now surviving Cancer than succumbing to it. But do we even notice that? We love to share horror tales of deaths and mutilations along the way. We become sadistic monsters (though well-meaning ones!) when we visit a person who is struggling with Cancer.

I had well-intentioned visitors who would come to my bedside and burst into tears, rattling me up. I would end up consoling them. So cheesed off would I get with these encounters that many times I would stun them into silence by saying, “Don’t cry too much. I might just outlive you!”

Oh yes, I have heard it all. From “Bon Voyage! It was nice knowing you!” to “Thank your lucky stars you are not young any more!” to “ Your bad karma from past lives has caught up with you. What can you do? You are helpless. Just surrender gracefully!”

If you are one of those who like to talk about your aunt’s sister’s nephew’s sister’s brother who “fought hard but died” please STOP!

Let’s change our bedside Cancer Etiquette. Seriously!

People who are happy inside are the only ones who can spread happiness. Please fill your cup with joy! Become upbeat, joyous and positive! Trust me, you will be doing a favour not only to yourself, but the world around you.

Neelam Kumar has written two books on surviving cancer “To Cancer, With Love-My Journey of Joy” (Hayhouse, 2015) was written during her chemotherapy sessions.“To Cancer With Love—A Graphic Novel”  her second book was a colorful comic book catered to our deadline-driven times with dwindling readership and short attention spans. Views expressed are the author’s own.

Also Read: Sonali Bendre battling cancer, says sharing her story gives her strength

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