Nandita Chakraborty: Battling Sarcoidosis And Running Marathons

Nandita Chakraborty

“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one that you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela. Meet Nandita Chakraborty, a general physician with her own clinic, a successful Marathon runner, and the Trustee of a school for underprivileged students, Lotus Petal Foundation. The school provides free education, nutrition, healthcare, stationary, uniforms, and skill development to kids from urban slums of Gurgaon. Started in 2011, with seven kids, the school has benefitted 7,800 children and adults, with 2,800 beneficiaries alone in 2019.

Nandita looks after the healthcare component of the students along with holding free walk-in camps for the community on the first Sunday of each month.

“The strongest people have not been given an easier life. They have learned to create strength and happiness from dark places.” – Kristen Butler

Nandita Chakraborty

Image Credit : Nandita Chakraborty

She is also the fund raiser for the school; infact, she was the highest fund raiser for a cause in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) for 2017. She wears many hats skillfully but success did not come to her easily. Her story is one of grit and determination, of strength in overcoming adversity, of transforming suffering into happiness.

Nandita Chakraborty is a true reflection of this adage. She was a normal, happy, successful doctor doing her Residency in Internal Medicine, when at the age of 27 years, her life suddenly changed without much warning. She was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called sarcoidosis, where the body cannot differentiate between self cells and non-self cells and starts attacking the body’s own cells thinking them to be foreign bodies.

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But this could not be diagnosed at the outset and she had to undergo treatment for tuberculosis for two months, when a cough deteriorated. Only when her condition worsened further that a battery of tests, bronchoscopies, and biopsies followed. It was a fight against time to find out what ailed her as she was struggling to even breathe. By the time sarcoidosis (rare in those days) was diagnosed, the granulomas (abnormal growth of autoimmune cells) had spread all over her body to her lymph nodes, bones and liver. She was fighting to survive in a body that was destroying her from within.

The fight for survival was exactly that and the first heavy price she paid for was with her career. She could not stay in a hospital because that made her susceptible to infections. She had to give up her MD and go home to recover with a course of steroids. But the steroids came with their own side effects. Her blood sugar and blood pressure went up as did her weight. Sunlight sensitivity led to her skin peeling upon exposure while her bones got progressively weaker manifesting in pains all day long. She had a new battle on her hands and was now fighting the side effects of her medication long after the primary disease had left her.

The fight for survival was exactly that and the first heavy price she paid for was with her career. She could not stay in a hospital because that made her susceptible to infections.

She improved in about two years, got married to her childhood sweetheart, and was blessed with a baby daughter the next year. She then went back to finish her MD with a two-year-old baby. There was a peaceful interlude for a couple of years. However, in 2006, the disease returned with a vengeance. This time the granuloma was pressing on a nerve in her neck, which led to right vocal cords paralysis; talking which comes so naturally to us became a struggle for her and at the age of 40, her world fell silent. So it was back to the steroids but due to excessive steroid treatment her right adrenal gland shut down sending her BP, sugar, sodium, and other mineral levels haywire. Then, the steroids had to be stopped, which threw her world into a spiral of pain and misery.

Image Credit: Nandita Chakraborty

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No mud, No lotus – Thich Nhat Hanh

When the disease returned, she was left physically weak and giddy, often with blackouts. She started speech therapy to relearn the sounds that had been her constant companion for 40 years. Mentally, she was numb just trying to cope day-to-day with the mud that life was throwing her way and turning her world into complete chaos. It was at this time, a patient who was a yoga teacher, introduced her to yoga, which she was initially averse to. But the teacher said, “If you don’t put in efforts to change who you are and whatever is your comfort zone, how will your healing process start?” This turned out to be the turning point in her life where she halted the slide downstream into the river of despair. She did yoga and felt calmer and her body also started healing. She discovered hitherto unknown depths of courage within her and started fighting back changing her lifestyle, her diet, and her attitude with a focus on holistic healing.

Given that sarcoidosis was something that she would have to always live with, she started dissociating the pain of her physical body from herself to focus on positivity. Around her 40th birthday, she started making a bucket list of the “50 things that I would like to do before I die”, and one of them was running a marathon. And as though the universe was conspiring for her transformation, she came across an article in the newspaper “Anybody Can Run” by Rahul Verghese (Founder of Running and Living). She decided to follow the running plan it talked about. However, it was not easy to run, especially alone.

Nandita weaved together her passion for running marathons with the project of empowering children from disadvantaged backgrounds by running for a cause.

As luck would have it, there were some runners in her neighborhood who had just started running and were in the process of forming a group. She joined them and ran her first 5 km, then 10 km, and then the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) of 21.1 km in 2011 November, which was the happiest moment of her life (after the day her daughter was born). The Anext challenge was the first full Marathon (42.2km) – another happy day in December 2012. Today, this close knit group of 40 people who run national and international marathons forms her extended family circle.

Image Credit: Nandita Chakraborty

And, most of the items on that bucket list are also done and dusted, becoming the footholds to the successful life that she has made for herself.

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The real joy in life comes from finding your true purpose and aligning it with what you do every single day. – Tony Robbins

In 2011, Kushal Raj Chakravorty shared his dream with Nandita of founding a school that gave free, quality education to urban slum kids and empowered them to be a part of the mainstream. He sought her help to harness both her professional expertise and her passion of running marathons into serving a greater purpose. The idea of doing something for the larger cause of humanity clicked with Nandita and she came on board Lotus Petal Foundation as a Trustee. She started Aarogya (wellness in Hindi) programme in the school under which a specially designed physical and mental fitness program is implemented across all the grades. Specialist medical interventions like visits to the dentist and dermatologist are organized. Additionally, monthly OPDs are held on the first Sunday of each month where over 3,000 people have been treated over the years. Under the wellness programme, freshly cooked meals (breakfast and lunch) are also provided to the children daily.

Nandita weaved together her passion for running marathons with the project of empowering children from disadvantaged backgrounds by running for a cause. The ADHM supports ‘Run for a Cause’, which gives runners an opportunity to make their run meaningful by raising funds for a cause they believe in. She was the highest fundraiser during the ADHM in 2017, raising ₹59.83 lakh; since 2016, she has raised ₹1.36 crore.

She is also the Co-Founder of Conversations & More, along with her husband Vivek Sharma. This start-up trains individuals and organizations in emotional intelligence, communications, and wellness – the three pillars to realizing one’s potential and living a fulfilling life.

Just like a beautiful lotus flower cannot blossom without mud, Nandita too had to undergo the mud of ill health and despair. However, this experience helped her to transform her life into a higher level by finding her true purpose in life.

Image Credit: Nandita Chakraborty

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Avantika Vijay Singh is an editor and writer who has written scripts for documentaries. She holds an M.S in Biomedicine from BITS, Pilani and a Master’s Level Certificate in Sustainable Development from Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden.