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Mansi Khandelwal

IWB Blogger

Anita Kothari: ‘I Don’t Feel Less Of A Woman Because I Had Breast Cancer’

  • IWB Post
  •  October 3, 2017

 

This Pink October, we bring the stories of women who said ‘I CANcer. This campaign will unearth struggles and emotions that these women went through while fighting their battles.

Anita Kothari was diagnosed with cancer four years ago in July at her second stage.

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She said, “I am one of those lucky people who has had it so easy. My husband and I used to go for annual medical checkups. This helped to detect cancer early. Initially, I got a little scared but with the support system I had, everything went so smoothly for me. My doctor asked me whether I wanted a mastectomy or a reconstructive surgery – because one doesn’t know it until one faces it.”

What did you discover about yourself while fighting cancer?

Anita: Well, my mom had had cancer five years before I was detected. I had seen her going through the trauma, so when you know it has happened to someone so close to you, this makes you stronger. Also, I have lost two of my mothers’ cousin sisters and two of my nieces to cancer. So after having gone through all this, my problem seemed very small.

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Family Tree made by Anita Kothari as a part of the book she wrote for her mother as her 81st birthday gift

But then there’s this psychological trauma, too. I mean one obviously feels that emptiness after a part of you has gone. So, when such thoughts occupied my mind, I called my son and told him that I wouldn’t feel the same way holding my grandchild in my arms post my operation, had I felt if I was healthy. I would always feel that space empty. My son calmed me down since he was not even planning to get married now and said we could together find a way. That built my confidence again.

I mean I had my share of difficulties. I didn’t like what I was eating; I used to be too tired and nauseated but otherwise, I was one of those fortunate ones who got through this without any trouble.

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What is your message to those who are fighting breast cancer now?

Anita: I have always believed that there are only two ways to face things. You can either crib and cry and moan or you can just accept the way things are and make it comfortable for those around you too.

There is nothing on this earth that you can’t overcome. If you find strength from outside, it is wonderful. But what is more important is to find that internal strength.

I remember, before my operation, I called my son who was in Mumbai that I wished to see him one day before I got operated. Since he had some work he said he’d come a day after my operation. I told him I wanted to see him before and he replied, “Mumma, aren’t you being a little melodramatic?” But then I guess I was just being realistic. I told him, though 99.9 % I would be back with them but what if. And that’s when something happened to him and he took the next flight home.

So I’ll tell you even when I was being taken to the Operation Theatre, I was all relaxed and in fact wished the doctor good luck which brought a smile on his face. Probably, because that’s now how a patient behaves! I mean all our lives we are expected to be brave and for me, this was the time I could have put that expectation into practice. So I decided to be brave because not being brave wouldn’t have helped anybody.

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How did you rediscover womanhood while fighting cancer?

Anita: Rediscovering womanhood? Well, I didn’t really give this a thought, she smiled. But yes, I don’t feel less of a woman because I have lost a part of my body. Though I do get a flying thought sometimes when I look at other women. I feel they are whole whereas I am not but that doesn’t worry me. It’s just a thought.

So after the surgery, I kept trying what options I have to look like I used to before. That’s because we dress in a certain manner that we need to take care of a few things. But it doesn’t affect my attitude towards life or the way I function.

Not just a breast, but when you go under chemo you even lose your hair. I wasn’t really conscious after losing my hair but my husband was. Once we went to a wedding and on reaching the destination, he realized I hadn’t put my wig on. I didn’t really feel awkward but my husband did. So he sent me back to wear my hair and then I attended the wedding.

But once I got my original hair after the chemo, I stopped coloring them. I had got so much within me. I didn’t want anything from without.

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Though I planned to ask her about the ‘give-up moment’, I changed it to “Tell me one of your best times when you were unwell?”

And, I was stunned with what I heard next.

She started off by saying, “I’ll tell you about one incident. So I got released from the hospital on 8th, and on 9th, President Pranab Mukherjee was coming for a ‘sit-down dinner’. So initially my husband who was appointed as the Lokayukta by then confirmed the presence of both of us. But later this surgery came up and he had to refuse. Since it was my first official dinner, I really wanted to attend and so I convinced my surgeon. I will never forget how that night I got dressed in a saree and struggled with hiding bandages and fixing my drain pipe. I went for the dinner and enjoyed it thoroughly.”

Another thing that left me amazed at the internal strength of Ms. Kothari, when she told me how her doctors couldn’t start her chemo because she had over 300ml lymphatic liquid coming out of her body. She said, “I told them to remove the tube and put tapes. I literally kept telling myself that ‘lymphatic liquid’ stay in, my body needs you and I know it is hard to believe but not a drop of liquid came out after that and my chemo began.”

Picture courtesy: Chhaveesh Nokhwal

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