When 35-year-old author-filmmaker Tahira Kashyap shared a post-surgery image of herself – bespectacled, smiling and holding mastectomy drains (see picture below) – recovering from breast cancer, countless women wrote back.
Many seemed scared to get a mammogram. Others shared concerns over losing their bras in front of technicians, or talking about it openly with their families, especially the men. “Talking about losing my breast in a room full of people isn’t the most comfortable conversation. But over time the hesitation has gone,” says Tahira.
According to the website India Against Cancer, “For every two women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer, one woman dies of it in India.” Tahira believes that educating men about breast cancer is crucial to help women become proactive against the illness. After all, she says, her fight against breast cancer wouldn’t have been possible without the unconditional love and support of five immensely strong men. Over to Tahira Kashyap in her own words…
Love favours the brave
“Ayushmann maintained his calm while juggling challenges in his professional and personal life. All with that wonderful smile. Only a real-life hero can do that.”
There was no hesitation when I told my husband Ayushmann that one of my breasts felt heavier than the other. He immediately made a doctor’s appointment, taking it more seriously than I did.
A series of tests – an ultrasound, a mammogram, a biopsy and an MRI – was recommended. Ayushmann accompanied me at every step though he had two films coming up. Sometimes I told him he didn’t need to do that, but he didn’t take that well. He and Komal, my best friend, were my backbone during my treatment.
I could see it was emotionally taxing for him. We’re not only each other’s life partners, we are soulmates. Physical pain is emotionally shared. However, he displayed enormous strength. He maintained his calm while juggling between his professional and personal life. All with that wonderful smile. Only a real-life hero can do that.
“When I broke down on hearing about the mastectomy, Ayushmann told me, ‘are you crazy? you were okay with the malignant cancer, but when the doc is talking about its removal, you’re crying? that’s so silly!”’
I always tried to remain as brave as possible, but during one of my final visits to the doctor before surgery, I felt a moment of weakness. He gave us some good news: the cancer is curable. And some bad news: I had to get a mastectomy. I hadn’t cried at all before this, but at that point I couldn’t help it.
My husband said: ‘Are you crazy? You were okay with the malignant cancer and its consequences, but when the doctor is talking about its removal, you’re crying. That’s so silly!’ That was the last time I cried. I reminded myself that I’m alive and kicking. That’s more important than anything else.
I’m still recovering from the surgery. But this kind of courage wouldn’t have been possible without my partner.
My son’s hero
“My son has been my biggest source of strength. He was stressed seeing the drains on me. I really want to recover as soon as possible because of that.”
I told both my kids (Tahira also has a four-year-old daughter, Varushka) about it before surgery. I could’ve told them I’m going on a holiday, but I want my children to show patience and empathy towards people who’re suffering.
I couldn’t, however, make it too gory for them. So I told them: ‘Mom is going to the hospital for a week and she’s going to come back braver like a soldier. You need to take care of the fact that you don’t jump on mom.’ On the last day, I called them to the hospital. I wanted them to see what was happening so they wouldn’t be scared once I was home.
“I told my kids, ‘mom is going to the hospital for a week and she’s going to come back braver like a solder. Just take care you don’t jump on mom!”
When I came home, I was received with cards and a lot of love. I’m like a warrior for my son. He has been my biggest source of strength. He was really stressed because of the drains I have. I really want to recover as soon as possible for him.
Father of a survivor
“My father would try to entertain us. But, for the most part, he was like an emotional anchor throughout my treatment”
My parents were shocked and moved when I told them. But after a few hours, my father said to me, ‘Are you sure it’s happening to you? It’s not looking like it.’ But, I honestly had and have a high life state, which is due to chanting. I practise Nichiren Buddhism. My parents had a lot of doubts. They would discuss my condition between themselves while I was out of the room, but the moment I returned, they’d be fine. It was a rollercoaster ride for them though. My father, however, tried to entertain us all. Throughout my treatment, he was an emotional anchor.
Brothers are the best
“Aparshakti is an amazing family member-cum-confidant and a friend for me!”
Aparshakti was shooting for his film when he found out, so he’d work the whole day and visit me at night. He is an amazing family member-cum-confidant and a friend for me! He offers comic relief, and he’s my go-to person for food and clothes. He got me my favourite cuisine, and tried to make us all laugh.
A friend in need
“Rochak Kohli made it his mission to help me recover as soon as possible. Once you see people other than your family wanting you to recover, it becomes your mission as well.”
Rochak kept me company at the hospital whenever I was awake. Like me, he practices Buddhism, and chanted for me throughout.
He, his wife and my other Buddhist practitioners made it their mission to help me recover as soon as possible. My victory was a victory for both of them. I had no business feeling low when everyone around me was so resilient.
The hesitation to discuss something life-altering is often from the woman’s side. Once that goes away, men will act as necessary. Breast cancer is the one of most researched cancers, and the most curable one now. The onus then is essentially on the woman. Family members and friends of all genders should give us the respect we deserve.