On the occasion of International Women's Day this year, I invite all the beautiful women reading this post to have faith in themselves, find their voice and stand up for what they believe is the right thing. I also want to delve into why I am saying this and share my story with you.
Two weeks before my 34th birthday, I found a lump in my left breast; it was definitely not the birthday gift I was looking forward to. It turned out to be aggressive grade 3, stage II cancer and a potential mastectomy loomed large. Getting through the treatment was excruciating because I developed severe side effects. Normal things like work, family and hobbies were all reduced to getting through cancer one day at a time. Nonetheless, life is a beautiful gift and therefore I decided to do everything in my power to get well.
Because of my fabulous healthcare team and the amazing NHS, I got well. The love of my husband, Abhishek, my parents and my brothers kept me going when I hit rock bottom. The treatment was so aggressive on the body that surviving cancer came at a massive cost. And so, while I was alive, I was not really well enough to celebrate that I had survived cancer. Life changed at all levels - physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially. The harsh reality of cancer is that I continue to live with the fear of recurrence on a daily basis. I do not dwell on it all the time but it gets triggered easily - like when I hear that a friend has got 'bad news' or when it's time for my annual mammogram.
Cancer introduced me to a new level of loneliness. Some friends stepped away from me, finding my diagnosis too painful to deal with. I felt abandoned. I 'get it' (now, not then to be honest) and cancer felt like walking alone. Macmillan's 'Not Alone' campaign captures this loneliness powerfully. It bewilders me how lonely it feels to be a person affected by cancer, despite all the love.
I also experienced how cancer can be seen as a 'cultural taboo.' In some cultures, people don't talk about cancer openly - it's a taboo, with fear and shame becoming associated with it. Was I advised that I must keep the news of my cancer treatment hidden away? Most definitely, yes. Thankfully, this advice didn't come from anyone who was actively involved in my cancer treatment. I didn't want to stand on a high street in London and scream, "Look at me! I have got cancer!" but hiding away was not the right alternative either. I found it suffocating; it also filled me with rage and 'no one talks about it' was not a good enough reason for me to do the same. So, I made a choice: to be The Change that I wanted to see. I took the decision to get my story published. If I kept quiet like many other people who consider cancer as a shameful thing, I would contribute to the problem. I choose to be part of the solution rather than the problem. I hope my story will encourage other people who associate cancer with guilt and shame to look at it as a medical condition because that's what it is.
The only emotion cancer should draw is compassion (no pity please) because of how challenging it is to get through. Judgement and shame should have no business lurking in the world of cancer.
To me, Macmillan have always been the key source of cancer-related information. I believe that information equips me with the power to make rational decisions when nothing else seems to make any sense. That's why I contribute to building awareness about cancer through public speaking and through my book, "My cancer journey - A rendezvous with myself."
And so, ladies....would you agree that life is too precious to live by someone else's norms? I say that we keep rocking by giving to the world the most amazing gift we can - our courageous authentic selves!
No one should face cancer alone. For more information call 0808 808 0000 or visit macmillan.org.uk