Another conversation with another interesting person. I would say it's one of my favorite conversations.
We have Aishwarya here. Aishwarya is a bio-medical student technically. Most importantly she is a cancer survivor. That is what we are going to talk about today.
Thank you, Aishwarya.
I will speak in Tamil for the major part and will use English in between as many have asked for it.
Thanks for coming out and speaking about it, because it is going to help a lot of people.
At what age were you diagnosed? Tell me about it?
Aishwarya: Thank you so much for having me here. Many don't want to speak about it. But it is good, a step forward for having a discussion like this. I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 25 or maybe 26. I did my schooling in Chennai and undergraduate and masters in the US. I was halfway through my Ph.D. and my research was also about drug delivery to cancer. I have learned everything about cancer as part of my R&D work.
I came for a break and suddenly was told that I too have cancer. My father was also a doctor and he was shocked to hear about it. But there is nothing much to do about it. They didn't tell me about it.
I have planned my holidays with a list of things to do while I was here. In fact, I have grown my hair to donate to cancer patients. I didn't know I had cancer then. My idea was to donate my hair while I visited India.
I came back of course for visa stamping.
For about 1 week, I had so many tests to undergo and I was told to do a biopsy. But whatever it may be, I wanted to take a day off for myself. I was so tired of all these tests which I was not aware of it.
Ashwin: What did you feel when you first heard you had cancer?
Aishwarya: I did not feel anything. But I was totally blank. I had to undergo so many tests but no one did not tell me the right thing. My family was shocked. One of my father's closest friends was almost like another father to me, he was the one who conveyed the message to my family. I could sense that fear while they were talking to me.
Anxiety, fear, and sadness, you can send everything in their talking. None of them are like that by nature. They are all doctors. They said that I have cancer and the good thing is you have a solution. You can get something to make sure that is not there anymore.
The bigger thing is, they said I may not be able to go back to the US. They feared that I will say no and wanted to go back. That was running in their mind. What if I say I wanted to go back. I have lived 10 years there and all of a sudden it is not possible to settle down back here. I have lost my career.
But my mindset was not even thinking about it.
I agreed to stay in India and do my chemo treatments.
Ashwin: When you said chemo, I wanted to tell you this. Generally, people always keep complaining about small things in life. I know how painful chemo is. You underwent chemo at a very young age. One should have extraordinary courage to undergo such things. I am sure you had it and that is the reason for your survival.
What were your thoughts when you did chemo? How traumatizing was chemo? Your answer will be a lesson to all those who complain.
Aishwarya: I have studied everything by books and I know the procedures and the actions. But when you lie on the patient's bed and the drug gets into your body, it's a completely different feeling. I had no idea of what it is like when you think you know. It was totally different. The pain was unbearable and it was there at different times due to the effect of chemo.
I had to complete 8 rounds of chemo and was indoors for 8 months. We were told to be indoors during corona and people who are diagnosed with cancer or any other disease, those who have low immunity have to stay indoors. More than physical draining, it becomes emotional and mental draining. It will slowly engulf you in that feeling.
Pain is different from person to person. My doctor told me beforehand what it would be like and the side effects. Tiredness, loss of appetite, hair fall all this will happen. So we actually went to a place to get the wig done.
The store owner asked me why I needed a wig while I had long hair. But my father said she needed it. He could not say the reason.
Being a doctor and having lived a lifestyle of his own, he came down and touched my hair and asked the store owner to get the wig done.
That's when I realized how hard it hit him. We had the wig done. I still have it. I haven't used it once. Maybe in my case, my hair was so thick that even when I had hair fall, nobody realized it. I had hair fall, but I did not have the effect that was typically shown of a cancer patient.
But I was not told about the extent of the pain I will have to go through.
Ashwin: Sorry to ask you. How painful was that?
Aishwarya: I remember describing it once to a very close friend. It was like you were burnt alive and hit hard with thick sticks. That's how painful it gets. More than anything else, you know you are not able to do anything.
Medicines are given to you, but beyond that, you cannot do anything.
You have to bear the pain. At one stage, you will stop whining and complaining about pain.
You are not going to be able to go past it.
Ashwin: I really love the way you took it. You have to realize it and go on with it. There is no use in whining.
Aishwarya: That was the real thing that happened. You can sit in your room and call up friends and complain about your pain. But there is a limit people will listen to you. You were forced to sit inside a room and were not allowed to go outside for the fear of infections. That's your only way out.
You learn to live with it. Maybe I had a little more patience than others. On top of that, I always had positive thinking.
Ashwin: Beautiful point. Especially during the physical and mental trauma, what did you do to stay positive? How did it help you?
Aishwarya: There are two or three things that made things easy for me. I used to watch lots and lots of sports and movies on tv channels. And then I started painting.
Ashwin: Yes. I saw your portraits. Beautiful. The tiger portraits were so beautiful. it looked like the works of a professional artist, but you are a biomedical engineer. You had the talent inside of you. Tell us about it.
Ashwin: Back in those days, the Indian society, if you are recognized as an engineer, it means a great deal. Biomedical engineering is something of a great deal to people here. But when people ask me what do you do? I say I am an artist. I tell myself that I am an artist and I want to be known as an artist.
The art gave me a lot of healing and therapeutic powers to me during the treatment time. Your ideas are the only limits. There are no deadlines. You are doing it for yourself. It was something my teachers told me. I had very strong teachers.
During my biomedical engineering studies, my guides told me to never let go of my passion even if I were an engineer. Whatever you do, do it for yourselves. Don't ever do think somebody will be there to appreciate.
Do the things that you love and tell people that you love to do it. You cannot succeed in doing things that you do not love to do. It will not take you anywhere and at one point, you will get so bored and frustrated doing it.
The people who advised me are literally the top people in their fields. They always said these things to me and they had no idea that I would paint.
Nobody that something like this would happen. They are the happiest that I am doing this. They are not just lecturers. They are real teachers who know how to guide every individual student. They guide you because they are teachers and they believe in you.
So that becomes very important.
So you grew as an artist.
Ashwin: So you started while you were in treatment. It made you happy.
Aishwarya: It made me happy. It made the people happy around me.
Ashwin: The tiger portraits are so beautiful. I wanted to show people. That was so real. So art is therapy.
Aishwarya: Absolutely. For some, it may be writing. Some may read, sing or dance.
Ashwin: So that helped you in a positive way.
So now you are married now. I learned a few things from your marriage.
It is a stigma in our society if the bride or the groom has cancer or any disease, treating them inferior. It's not the right thing to do. But your husband beautifully accepted you knowing everything. And still, he is your backbone strength.
Can you share your experience? How did he take it when you said that you had cancer.
Aishwarya: I am very blessed to have a family that is able to understand. May parents and my brother were able to understand the scenario. But they had the fear of sharing this information with the outside world. They were worried about my marriage plans. But during the initial chemo treatments, they asked me not to share the information with others. None of my relatives knew about it. They asked me why I was here in India. I used to tell them that I had to take a break and pursue my passion. I did not have answers to many of the questions they asked.
I had the urge to tell them the true reason, but my parents did not want me to expose the facts. They were scared. Since my father was a doctor, his friends and everyone knew about me and my condition. I am extremely grateful to all the people who have been a part of this journey.
All the doctors including Dr. Ramesh who was my oncologist, Dr. Renu, other phenomenal doctors, and the entire Apollo family. The small things that were needed were taken care of for me. Beyond all this, I had a friend who understood who I was. I got to know this person post my diagnosis.
I met him only after my first set of chemo was over.
Ashwin: And what did he say when you met him for the first time? How did you express your feelings?
Aishwarya: When you tell people that you have cancer, they give you the typical reactions with the stereotype questions. When I told him that I had cancer, he simply passed on to another topic. He was straight out and asked me what I was doing in art.
For me, that was a jump. For over 1 and half years I was so tuned to the topic of cancer and I was wondering why this person did not care about it. And then you talk and realize you had things in common. The very interesting thing about is that we have known each other for quite some time. There was no dating kind of a scene and he said he liked me and wanted to marry me. It was only that much. And to him, to date, that's all it is.
He has seen Aishwarya as Aishwarya.
Ashwin: This has to reach people. People judge by so many things, trying to know about the past and unwanted things. This way of seeing people should change.
These are the conversations we should talk about and practice. People will have diseases at any moment in their life. Especially men have to accept women the way they are. Even in well-off educated families, the stigma is there. They think life becomes a standstill when they have such a disease.
But it is all in our hands and how we take it forward. I think you are an inspiration for this point and your husband is an inspiration for the current generation.
Aishwarya: Beyond my husband, his family immediately accepted me and my family did not know what to say. They had the fear for a very long time.
I and my husband and our families are holes apart in a lot of aspects, we may not think alike. Both of us were raised completely differently. I lived in the US for nearly 10 years and it's totally different here.
But for them to accept me into their family is something amazing. To date they have not questioned me nor what will I do if I get it back. They say they now have a daughter. We will have our share of differences and I think it is important to tell here. It doesn't mean that just because they have accepted you nor you have accepted them you can do anything you want.
Your own family has to accept you. Your parents, siblings, and friends need to know how to accept you.
Ashwin: Since you said friends, I wanted to ask you one thing here. You said that your friends left you when you said you had cancer.
Why was it and can you explain about it?
Aishwarya: friends play a very important role in any aspect of life. everybody knows about it and each of us will have a close circle.
I used to have a close circle whom I had from the 2nd grade of my school life. They are still there. Even if I do not talk to them for years, and when I start talking to them, they take it forward. That's how they have always been.
But there were some people who left me after they knew I had cancer. I did not hear back from them at all. It might be boys or girls, but suddenly you don't hear back from them. they move away from your life. I did not know why. I think they did not know how to react if a person is affected by cancer. Or else, they might have thought they will be infected too by something else. Of course, they are all educated. But if that is the thought process, then there is nothing much to say about it.
Ashwin: What would you like to tell such people?
Aishwarya: If you know someone who has cancer, be there for them. You should not disturb them. Try to be by there side at the same time not distrubing them as they are already gpoing through a lot of things. The most important thing is if you can create a positive vibe in the environment, do that. The person who is suffering should know that you are there. They should know that you will be there no matter what happens. if you are not able to handle it emotionally, just get away from them. There is no need to be by thier side. The person suffering is already going through physical and mental trauma and their future is uncertain. You can be there for them and guide them and be as a supportive person. At the same time, if you feel uncomfortable, you need not be there. They are anyway going to move forward with or without you.
Ashwin: Don't keep talking about it over and over again and upset them.
Aishwarya: Before and after chemotherapy is totally different and a lot of things change. Your physical appearance may change and this one factor may be disturbing for many. Asking questions about physical appearance is unwanted.
just a simple how do you do will be more than enough. If the person answers, you will know if he is willing to answer you or not. If you still want to know what is happening, go ask someone in the closest circle.
But don't make any assumptions. Be there for them full-heartedly. Not the other way around. It's good for both of us. I have come across people like that who talk to you just for the sake of gathering information. You will start knowing about the purpose right in the beginning.
All they want is the information. They want the gossip. No, it doesn't work. If you have such people around you, just stay away from them. There is no need for such people. You already have so many things in your mind. You don't know how much suffering you are going to handle today. There are so many other issues to be worried about during chemo sessions.
When you have therapy going on, you have so many things to look up to. You have so many things to worry about. For example, if you do not have a positive attitude, mental strength, or self-belief and you feel you are not up to it, you are not able to move forward.
I would say that a positive attitude had helped me a lot. It boosted me so much that nobody would think I was a patient. Unless I came out and told that I am the patient, nobody knows about it.
Simple example: I used to go to the hospitals with my parents, where they would sit looking sadly. I was the one who goes to the admission counters and I used to wear track pants, T-shirts and my hair used to be loose. Just before my chemo, I straightened my hair. It was the dumbest thing to do according to most people and there was a big fight on this topic with my mom. It makes me feel good and I want to do it. That's it.
I missed a doctor's appointment to get my hair straightened. My family was perplexed. They couldn't believe it and could not digest that I gave more importance to my hair than a doctor's appointment. It was on a Sunday. It was all just before my cancer chemo session. They couldn't accept it.
I used to do all the formalities at the hospital and finally asked me to bring the patient. That's when I say, I am the patient. They used to wonder.
Ashwin: Everyone should learn this point from you.
Aishwarya: There is no other way. You have to lead your life and stay happy. Who cares. You have to find a way to stay happy. And the most interesting that I found at that point is, they used to take me to the room. Only my mom was with me. First of all, getting a room is difficult as sometimes you may not get one. I will inform my dad If I get a room. By the time I was speaking to my dad, the nurse came and took my mom for height and weight checks. She thought my mom was the patient.
Ashwin: basically they couldn't believe that you were the patient.
Aishwarya: That's when I realized it was so important to stay happy. It made the difference. The doctors and nurses in the hospital are constantly seeing patients and sadness. There is constant sadness and it is irrespective of age. They are used to seeing them day in and out.
They are also humans and they need some sort of entertainment in life. For me, it was fun in whatever sense it was. I don't know if it's right to say this, I was on the taller side and the nurse was a little shorter and it was difficult for her to measure my height. It was funny. There was this kid who was brought in in a stressed state and he had cancer. The kid saw the sister jumping up and down and he burst out laughing. Maybe it was funny for that kid to see the nurse jumping. These are the things that made the difference. Cancer kids know how it is and it's not like you buy a lego toy to make them happy. Even a 5-year cancer kid will know his limitations and they start getting into their acceptance which is very critical.
Whoever it may be, you should understand what that person is going through. And you need to bring that positivity into that person. And if you don't have that positivity, stay away.
Ashwin: I think this advice suits everyone in general.
Aishwarya: Definitely better.
You asked me earlier what are the things that are going through my mind.
There are so many and you want to do much more. You will feel anger, sadness, you may want to punch someone too. You are locked indoors and you do not know what to do. What next is the question?
You don't know what's there for you the next day. Because nobody has told you that you will still be alive the next day. You may or may not. But you still have the chance of getting it back. It has come back to me. When you are so confined, you will have a lot of things in your mind. Mostly unwanted. it may be long back that someone may have said something to you and you may recollect.
Mostly unnecessary things.
Ashwin: I wanted to ask you one thing. How has your life changed after cancer and how was it before? What are the lessons that you have learned in life and what is that you like to tell people here?
It's an inspiring journey and what are the points that you think would be beneficial for people if they learn it beforehand.
Because cancer survivors are almost living a second chance. What are the life lessons here?
Aishwarya: Life before cancer, I knew what all I can do and I was a confident person. Post cancer, everything that I knew had gone away. You may be extremely good at remembering things, but your memory just fades. In my case, memory started fading at some point. People have seen you and know what you are capable of and they expect you to be the same person. You may not be the same person.
Ashwin: Of Camera, we were discussing so many things and you said, only today is what we have in hand. Tomorrow is uncertain and there is no need to complicate things. I wanted to hear from you.
There is a saying that goes by" live life to the fullest". It was kind of an irritating statement to me all this time. But whatever you do, do it whole-heartedly. Do it happily and do what it requires today. Tomorrow is uncertain. Anything can happen. Tomorrow something might happen and can change your life.
I am not saying don't plan. Planning is obviously needed. Without planning is difficult. But all it matters is how you live today. Be positive. Be confident and have the courage to face any issue. Think like you can do anything that is humanly possible. Today you may have your parents, friends around you but there is no guarantee they will be around you forever. Do what is possible by you.
before chemo, I was a biomedical engineer and I used to earn more. But now, I am an artist.
Ashwin: How happy are you is the most important thing now.
Aishwarya: Yes. Big change. In terms of monetary aspects, it will hold you still. It makes you grounded completely and you will be fed up soon. You can do only what is possible and nothing much beyond that. Many people are living their day-to-day lives this way. What I am trying to say is to be prepared.
Ashwin: Tomorrow is uncertain and life may change in a day. Live happily without greed and jealousy.
Greed and jealousy are an absolute waste of time.
I used to constantly go through social media and the thing that I noticed is don't try to be like someone else. Be yourself. You don't have to imitate what is going on in social media.
Social media reflects only happiness and never reveals true sadness. Nobody is going to post sadness. I have seen a lot of people who want to imitate others whom they follow on social media. Everybody wants to follow as they think that's what it is. It's very scary and the way the world is changing.
Ashwin: You can enjoy life but that is not the only thing in life.
Aishwarya: Even this very conversation is for media of some sort but you should learn something out of it. But if you are bored, just stop it.
This is all my experience. But each individual cancer patient may have experienced different things. I am sharing my thoughts here.
How best you can make life around you is what is important.
I am a fan of Vivek. If you take it lightly, then things might work out. But it will not work the other way around.
Ashwin: The essence of your life before and after is to enjoy and be happy.
Aishwarya: Fun. That's it. Everybody has their own problems and you cannot avoid them. You can work today and somedays you may not. There is used to be days when I churn out a painting in two days. But now I am not able to do it. Things change and it may not be the same all the time.
Ashwin: Basic planning should be there but at the same time not too serious about it.
Aishwarya: Being serious will not take you anywhere. It's a waste. You have to be happy. I used to thank the comedians in my thesis papers because they kept me going.
When I had cancer, I used to watch TV and I thought I would not last any longer. Very strangely I was watching a cricket match Dhoni was scoring. It was like he had to win it and he actually did it. There were millions of people watching and cursing him and he was there calmly playing his game and winning the match. Life is just that. You just have to do your part and don' think it's the end.
Think that you can always take that step forward
Ashwin: I love it. Don' think it's the end. There is no end to anything.
Aishwarya: No. There is no end. You can step forward. Even if there is a pit, you can still put your leg forward. It is how you fall into the pit. You may not even fall sometimes. It may actually be a stepping stone for some kind of success ahead of you.
Ashwin: And I see you now as a very happy person. I want this to reach the people and everyone should be happy. That's the whole point of this conversation.
Aishwarya: Hopefully. If you are bored of this, just stop it right away. If you like it, take whatever is apt for you. It is just a small portion of somebody's life.
Ashwin: I hope this conversation with Aishwarya was useful to you. The whole point of this conversation is if you like to change your life based on one single point, then you will have the answers. So I hope this was useful.
Post your comments in the comments section.
From this discussion, I personally say that there is no end to anything. She fought it and she is a happy person today. It is a beautiful lesson and I will take that. Similarly, you can decide what is better for you.
Thank you, Aishwarya.
Aishwarya: Whatever it is, be happy. Believe it can be done. If you believe, it will happen. Do it happily. Don't do things based on results. Do it whole-heartedly and the results will follow. Accept yourself. Acceptance is more important. Tomorrow it may become perfect. Practice and you may better it tomorrow.
Ashwin: As you said, don't complain. Don't waste time. Avoid greed and jealousy. Live it fully and be grounded.
Aishwarya: Be grounded. Be happy. Stay happy. That's all it takes and that is life.
Ashwin: Aishwarya is speaking from her life lessons. But as doctors, we know it early and If everyone understands it, we can live our lives more sensible, with more humanity and grounded.
Thank you Aishwarya.