Monday, Jul 04, 2022

Two Survivors Who Told Cancer: I Will Define My Life, Not You

On World Cancer Day two survivors talk about surviving cancer and leading a normal life.

Representational image.

Coming out of cancer and leading a normal and happy life is like winning a marathon. Outlook’s Lachmi Deb Roy catches up with these amazing fighters who have beaten cancer and are now leading happy lives. Here is what these brave fighters have to say:

Ritika Kothari (33), architect and urban planner from Nagpur

Ritika Kothari, fondly known as Rinkie or Rittzie never knew that her 20s would be so exciting and tumultuous. She says, “Being a Scorpion, I was always curious and inquisitive. With the hope that my stories will inspire people going through the same, I started talking about cancer.”

Surviving cancer was life-altering for her. But she never let it affect her essence. “I wanted to be the same old happy-go-lucky, social person with lots of energy. I was afflicted with cancer when I was 27 years old and had just started a new job in the dream city of Mumbai. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma stage 4 and had to go through six months of chemotherapy and radiation on my neck and bone marrow.”

She survived cancer with effective treatment and moral support. She believes that there is no fixed recipe to handle it. But doing what you love the most is the key to happiness and recovery. Not that every day was perfect, yet whenever there were setbacks, she was hanging in there with the hope of a better tomorrow. “I never let my dreams be dreams, I made plans to materialize them. To me that’s the essence of life.”

Positivism is something that’s innate. She felt her purpose is to share this positivity and small stories with the world.

During the pandemic, she relived the isolation as she had to experience it during chemotherapy, due to low immunity. The co-morbidity would give her chills every other day during the lockdown, even a fever would send her to panic mode. So, she wrapped up her single, entrepreneur life in Mumbai and moved to her parents’ home in Nagpur.

Ritika narrates, “Through the lockdown, I worked on creating and executing a virtual conference for architects and designers. What kept me sane was the belief that setbacks are not permanent. Post-lockdown, I moved back and set up a new venture WorklabCo, a co-working space with traditional sensibilities and modern facilities.”

For her this was a big step towards normalcy. “In our endeavor to make this transition as smooth as possible, we have used quiescent spaces to generate revenue,” she adds. Cancer gave her strength to believe in herself and take a flight every time she crashed down. She says, “Through my pre-cancer journey, cancer journey, post-cancer journey, travels and everything else that constitutes my life, I wish to inspire everyone to live a life to the fullest, encircled with positive vibes and peace.”

Neelam Kumar (58), breast cancer survivor, author, and life coach

“The lump was close to my heart. I believe it was the grief of losing my beloved husband that caused it,” believes author Neelam Kumar who was struck by breast cancer in 1996.

 She recovered, but in 2013, cancer sneaked into her body again slyly when she was just sitting back after getting her two children married off and had completed 30 years in a top position as deputy general manager, corporate affairs, with the Steel Authority of India Ltd. Once again there were no symptoms except a little hardening of the area. She remembers talking to her cancer, “You will not define my life. I will.”

Says Neelam, “All the books I read on cancer had the protagonist die. Even the classic film Anand met the same fate.” While the doctors did what they were supposed to, Neelam used a two-pronged approach. She decided to shift from the “victim” to the “victor” mode. She narrates, “I surprised the monster with the right attitude. I told it that I would live --- joyously and meaningfully.

Disappointed at not finding any “happy literature’ on cancer in India, Neelam simply decided to write one to cheer herself up. And to her surprise, her book, To Cancer, With Love — My Journey of Joy zoomed up to become a bestseller, emerging as India’s first joyous book on cancer. “More importantly, readers from all over the world began to contact and tell me how my words had given them hope, courage and the strength to fight on,” says Neelam.

“I was taken aback by readers’ response. Cancer fighters and their caregivers contacted me to say how much courage my book had given them. I discovered that each person is looking for hope and joy. Emboldened by the success of my book, I decided to write India’s first graphic novel —a comic book on cancer that would cater to our rushed, deadline-driven times of short attention spans.  So, I wrote, To Cancer, With Love --- A Graphic Novel.”

She wrote a book with Manisha Koirala called “Healed”. Right through her cancer battle and even after it, writing and meeting people remained her passion and helped her come out of it stronger. She believes in the quote of Daisadu Ikeda. “We are not defeated by adversity but by the loss of the will to strive. However devastated you may feel, so long as you have the will to fight on, you can surely triumph.”