QUEEN’S ROAD: Instead of wallowing in self-pity on being diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, Neelam Kumar decided to write a book about her journey to recovery.
The author was in town to release her fifth book, To Cancer With Love - My Journey of Joy at Shankara Research Foundation.
“I wanted to release my book in the breast cancer capital, where it can reach the people it needs to impact the most,” she says.
Her previous book collaboration with Khushwant Singh, Our Favorite Indian Stories, taught her about writing. “I was able to write effortlessly this time because of the exposure to his work ethic,” Neelam admits.
With 30 years of experience in public relations and corporate communication, Neelam is now the managing director of a “nine-to-five corporate lounge” — The Training Hub.
All the books she had previously read about cancer ended with the patient dying. And the author wanted to change that perception by writing her story.
“When I was in recovery, I was looking for joy, hope and encouragement. But I couldn’t find a book that gave me those things. So I decided to document my experience. It was in a bid to create a happily-ever-after book that I wrote,” she says.
The book also talks about her husband’s death, the first cancer in 1996 and the financial struggle that ensued. “I hope to inspire people who have to deal with challenging situations like depression,” she told City Express.
In her book, Neelam does not hold back and walks the reader through the tough time with raw honesty. She describes the pain she felt with all the tubes that were inserted into her body during chemotherapy.
”I was in emotional turmoil, with the pain and the hair loss and the uncertainty. It’s a tough time when you’re facing your own mortality,” Neelam shares.
The writer has created an alter ego out of her strong, positive side and named her Carol. She is feisty and ready to face struggles head on. The internal dialogue she has with Carol was crucial to her recovery, says Neelam. “That is how I dealt with all the negativity and stayed positive,” she explains.
Her regular trips to the hospital were always eventful, as they taught her important lessons about human relationships.
One of the most thought provoking interactions she has at the hospital is with a woman who was abandoned by her husband after her diagnosis.
“I think all couples who neck and pet each other before marriage should be brought to Tata Memorial Hospital to understand the meaning of true love. They should think long and hard whether their relationship can pass this test,” Neelam says.
Even at this day and age, there are many superstitions and myths about cancer in our country, she says. “Many of my friends started shunning me for the fear of catching an infection. Others avoided me as they thought I was grieving,“ Neelam shares.
Her breasts always gaped at insensitively. Neelam, however, was unabashedly vocal and did not shy away from talking about it.
“At every meeting, people stared at my breasts. I had to assure them that mine were real and that only the lump had been taken out. This embarrassed and shocked them,” she recalls.
Her ‘blood sisters’, as she calls them, gave her moral support by joking about the disease like it was a small setback that could be easily overcome. They exchanged secrets and memories from their childhood together.
Pity is the worst thing to treat a cancer patient with, Neelam says. Her sisters Poonam, Shabnam and Anupama treated her “like the Kohinoor diamond” and helped her regain strength.
“At the hospital, they jokingly threatened the nurses about what they would do to them if anything happened to me,” Neelam says.
It was their sense of humour that ultimately pulled her out of the darkness.
“I saw too much grimness around. I wanted to become that source of joy and laughter as well as inspiration for the lost, the abandoned and the hopeless. Humour is the only way you can deal with the roller coaster that is life,” she says.
Neelam's straight hair is now short and curly and her perspective on life has widened beyond imagination. “Thank you, cancer, for visiting me twice and making me the woman I am today,” she says.
To Cancer With Love - My Journey of Joy is available on Flipkart, Amazon and at Blossom Book Store