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When it comes to care-giving, you’ll often find a woman on the forefront. But caring for her own health and well-being is relegated to the backburner, until there’s a rude alarm. On World Cancer Day 2022, writer-author and breast cancer survivor Tahira Kashyap Khurrana holds up a mirror for the ladies, and reminds them why health MUST be a priority.
In 2018, Tahira was diagnosed with stage 0 cancer or pre-cancerous stage, with cancer cells multiplying in a contained area, in her right breast. The experience helped her to look at life with a fresh perspective – respecting its unpredictability and enduring obstacles with courage.
Since the day she underwent partial mastectomy, Tahira has been actively telling women to react when symptoms of cancer or any ailment emerge. “Think of it as a protective force and get yourselves examined,” she would often urge women.
Now, in a heartfelt and honest tete-a-tete with HealthShots, Tahira has opened
up about the need for women to prioritize health, facing her cancer survival journey with a smile, her ‘sins’ of motherhood and the idea of superwomanhood!
Tahira: I feel we should really start with taking care of ourselves. Only if we
are happy and healthy can we be a source of happiness, goodwill and a good
environment for other people.
I’ve always spoken about breast cancer awareness or detection. I came to know
via my doctors that many women ignore their symptoms. They actually even put off their mammograms or their tests because it has been a child’s farewell or birthday party or husband’s retirement party or even some distant relative’s wedding. You put off your doctor appointments because of all these reasons and sometimes even something as small as ‘Today I have to cook dinner for some guests’! You give that precedence over your health checkup. And what does it cost you? It costs you late detection, which means it is difficult to treat.
It all stems from the mindset of placing other people first and yourself later. All of us are guilty of doing that. I have done that. For a moment, you feel like this woman who is sacrificing so much for other people, but a couple of months, days and years down the line, it only adds to your unhappiness quotient.
The first and foremost thing for any woman or any human being is to do in life as they tell you on an airplane: Place the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then on others!
Tahira: Or did it give me the strength to endure? There are two ways to look at
it. It was definitely a big health issue, but as long as we live, we are going to experience pain and disappointment in multiple forms. I would like to say that I treated it as any other challenge. There are some people who face financial or a relationship crisis. At times, that is also more consuming than a health issue…The idea is to be strong. If you can deal with a challenge in the most joyous manner, it becomes less of a suffering. If it is going to take X number of chemotherapy sessions for cancer treatment, it will take that long. But how joyous are you going to make that journey? That power lies in you! The idea is to recognize that power even in the deepest and darkest of times.
It was a tough phase of my life, but I would like to see the kids and the environment around me at that time as my strength rather than the other way round.
Tahira: I think the pressure is generally from within. The environment, society and people will always give you a reason to complaint and grudge about. The power to be affected or not lies within you. This awareness came to me much later in my life. In my 20s, I was all cooped up and complexed… I took all those pressures and landed up nowhere because nobody was bothered whether I am worrying about the 2 extra kilos I had or whether my pimple was here or there. These are generally very self-created fears.
For me, it has been a journey of evolving and learning that the power lies within me, and not with anybody else. It’s me who is giving all the pressures. My book ‘The 7 Sins of Being a Mother’ is also about easing off the pressure. It doesn’t tell you to be the ideal or perfect mother. It is actually the polar opposite of it.
Tahira: Perfect mother kuch bhi nahin hota hai! It is a myth created by people who do not like to see women being happy. It’s a ploy to put more pressure on all the existing pressures that a woman has. So, it is very unfair to ask a woman to multi-task and then give her compliments. I don’t want that compliment of a multi-tasker because I would want somebody else to do half the things that I am doing. It’s just because the other person is not doing things, that the woman has to take on so many roles. I would rather have this lovely status of ‘multi-tasker’ not been given to women.
There is nothing called a perfect man, woman or a mother or father. We are all
human beings who are equally vulnerable and we need to just acknowledge that
for our own happiness.
Tahira: I think it needs to be a constant endeavour to tell ourselves that we are not meant to be perfect, and that we are not meant to do everything. We can’t do everything. And you can’t hold yourself guilty for doing that or feeling that. I have a problem now with whoever compliments me that you are a multi-tasker, you are a superwoman. Nahin banna hai mujhe… tum ban jao!
Tahira: From gaining 20 kg and being judged for that to being judged for trying to knock off those kilos because my child was hardly a couple of months old, I have seen it all. I was judged for giving a top feed. I was judged for even trying to work. These are some guidelines that need to be set by the mother herself, and so I have felt guilty and sinful for most part of bringing up my children the way I wanted to. I am still judged. But it is just that I have let that pressure off me.
I have forgotten my child at a restaurant, for which I was judged. I had just made it to the lift when a waiter came up and told me, ‘Madam, aap apna bachcha bhool gaye ho‘. That was the most embarrassing thing. If looks could have killed, the people in the lift would have killed me! But I was just thinking that if a father would have done this, they all would have laughed. So, it’s a different perception that the world has towards the ‘sins’ being committed by the motherr and the father. And I have a problem with that.
I don’t have a problem with any of us committing sins because we are human beings and we are going to make mistakes, but how forgiving or unforgiving we are, how does that depend on the gender that you have? Yes, I have a problem with that!
Tahira: I’m no one to tell anyone. I had read so many books about motherhood and parenting, and now there are so many apps telling you how must be feeling. But these are fables created by people who feel that mothers in general are supposed to feel a certain way. Somehow, I am opposed to that idea. I feel that every person’s motherhood journey is very unique. You can’t have a set of guidelines telling you this is how you should be feeling, nurturing or this is how you should be bringing up your child. I think all of us should be allowed to have the maturity or our own sense of experience for bringing up our children. All that I can say is that life is going to be a journey and you just need to embrace it fully and joyfully. Set your own commandments for yourself, your own sins, and embrace them fully!
Tahira: It’s very important to give your mental health precedence. I am glad that people are talking about it more openly. Opinion leaders are in a position where what they say really matters. The idea of perfection and the perfect image is being shattered by these people and that is so good because everybody is dealing with their own crap. Nobody’s life is perfect, or so Insta-perfect! We all have our issues going on. It is very important to acknowledge the same and talk about it.
My advice is, don’t pent up. I have been on that end of the spectrum where I did need help, but at that point of time I did not know whether I had the option of talking to someone. There was so much taboo around it. And taboo was secondary! I didn’t even know myself that I was going through anxiety.
Acknowledge your own life’s state. If you are having sleepless nights, anxiety, or you are feeling your heart pounding, or you constantly feel sad or feel like crying, these are some symptoms. I am by no means a doctor, but I am someone who has gone through it. You will come out of it, but you need to acknowledge it first, and reach out to someone who can help you out of it.
Tahira: Good thoughts, good vibes and positive affirmations to have a joyous life. I also have soaked almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds!