I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question at some point in your life. Maybe you asked it when you lost someone close to you. You may even have asked it when you didn’t get something you wanted, like admission to an institution of your choice or when you lost your job. It could be a failed relationship or a road accident that made you ask this question.
For me, it was cancer.
In 2015, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I cried a lot. This question “why me?” kept repeating itself in my head. What did I do to deserve this? I had lost a dear friend to cancer before, and knew the seriousness of this disease.
Let me introduce myself to you. I am Deepa Punjabi. I live in Mumbai. I love life and I love my family. I’m what some people refer to as a ‘desi mom’. I take pride in being a home-maker.
I’m also a bit filmy. I love watching films and love quoting lines from them.
So my life was regular till I found a lump in my left breast. I tried to convince myself that it might not be cancer. But I had it checked by a doctor anyway. Even before receiving the report, I kept hoping that it would just be a benign lump. It turned out to be cancer.
No one in my family had cancer. So I never expected to get cancer. You never think about these things till they actually happen to you.
Even while I struggled to find the answer to ‘why me’, there was another feeling that was very strong within me. It was my urge to live.
I knew that cancer or no cancer, I had to survive. My children were so young, my daughter was only 7. I felt like I had hardly lived life till now, at least I hadn’t lived it as much as I wanted to. Giving up was out of the question. There was so much to live for, my children, my husband, my parents, and so many things to do.
It is this urge to live that made me accept my cancer. But my family didn’t find it so easy to accept it. It was still too painful for them to even acknowledge that I had cancer. I could see this pain in their eyes. Maybe they were also asking the same question, ‘why me?’ Why should my wife/mum have cancer?
I could not show my sadness or confusion in front of them. It would bring them down even further. So I kept smiling in front of them. My therapy was that if they see me happy, they will also feel happy. If they see me sad, they will get very worried. I could not bear to see them get so worried.
The first step of my treatment was surgery. I was scared going in for my surgery. I didn’t know if I would even survive it. But the moment when I woke up after the anaesthesia had worn off, and realised that the surgery was over and I was still alive … that was the turning point of my life.
I felt like I really had a new life now. This was my second chance. I was given this chance for a reason, and I had to find out what that reason was.
As my treatment continued, I began to find I had more strength in me that I had realised till now. I decided to go for my chemotherapy session by myself.
It was important for me that my husband focus on his business and my children attend school as usual. I felt that if we continue with our routines as much as possible, things will seem more normal to us.
I would leave for the hospital after assuring my family that I was feeling fine and there was no need for anyone to worry. Once I reached the hospital, I would send a smiling selfie to my family from the hospital bed. I knew they were worried and I wanted to make them feel like there was no need to worry.
Here are some of the selfies I sent my family from the hospital during that time.
After I returned from my chemo session, I would make sure to take my kids down to the park to play with them. I didn’t want them to think that something was very wrong with mummy. If they see me laughing and playing, they will not worry.
I spent most of my treatment thinking about how to reduce their fears, and this made me forget my own fears. But I had my weak moments too.
Existential questions like ‘what is the meaning of life’, or ‘what was I born for’ do not occur to us until and unless something comes into our life to shake us out of our daily activities. Pain can make a philosopher out of anyone, even someone like me.
By the time my chemotherapy sessions were completed, I had come to some sort of an answer for my philosophical questions. I felt like the meaning of life is found in helping others.
The more we think only of ourselves, the more meaningless life seems. But when we reach out to others and help them, in whatever way we can, we suddenly find purpose in life.
After my treatment ended, I barely had time to get back to normalcy. In 2017, I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time.
That initial shock was still there. It doesn’t get any easier. Yes, I fully accept that it is difficult. But I still insist that it is possible to stay positive during this time.
This time, the doctor advised me that I would need radiation. I thought it was a good change from the chemotherapy I had the last time round.
Everytime that I went for my radiation therapy, I would remember to put on my lipstick and my kajal before I went. And I went inside the radiation room with a smile. Because the ones who would be waiting for me outside this room for the next two hours, my family, should not spend those hours worrying for me.
Once my treatment was over and I was in remission, I decided to act upon the philosophies that I had formed during my cancer. My second life was given to me so that I can reach out to other cancer patients. I started visiting cancer centres just to speak with other cancer patients. I wanted to tell them my story and reassure them that they will be okay.
My second life taught me that everything in life is beautiful, even my bald head. I remember it was my cousin’s wedding. Everyone in my family was dressing up in the best possible way for this occasion. Some of them had called professional hairdressers over to do their hair and make-up for them. And there was me, with my bald head. My hair had not yet grown back after chemotherapy. But I wanted to dress up too. I was proud of myself for having faced cancer and I didn’t want to hide myself under any wig or scarf. I decided I will dress up. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
The best script
Cancer has made me so strong that I am not afraid of what others think about me. If you have seen the movie ‘English Vinglish’, you will recall a dialogue where Sridevi says that the man had taught her how to love herself. That was exactly how I felt. Cancer has taught me how to love myself.
Now, I live every moment of my life to the full. I stay happy no matter what. God has been so kind to give me a second chance at life and I will not waste even a single moment of it being sad.
I think I finally have my answer to the question ‘why me?’ They say God gives his best scripts to his best actors. So if God is giving you a very challenging role, you can understand that you are his chosen one.
In conclusion, I will share my motto with you. I have borrowed it from another movie that I really like. My motto in life is ‘Love you, zindagi. Love me, zindagi.’ I am a survivor who has experienced cancer twice in my life. I am grateful to still be here, writing this for you. I hope you can love your life and yourself too.
If you have a cancer story to share with us, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.