I learnt about my breast cancer by accident. I’d gone to my doctor for checking my eyes. I had a conference and had to read some papers. I was 40 then and I thought probably I’ll need glasses. It so happened that my doctor had just bought a mammogram machine and he wanted to inaugurate with me. I gave in and went for the test. He just looked at me and I knew something was wrong. I still remember it was a weekend and my husband was out of town. I had to visit a surgeon…get a biopsy done and they discovered a weight. I still recall how my body went numb. I wanted to throw up. I was angry… why me? My whole world came to a halt. It was as if someone had just switched off the lights. I was suddenly struck by the fear of death. My kids then were really young. Tavraj was 11 and Udaibeer was 6 and all I could think was what would happen of them if I died. My mother also suffered from breast cancer and subconsciously I was expecting something bad to happen. There were times when I would imagine symptoms. But when I was actually diagnosed with it, my life just fell apart. Chemotherapy is tough to go through especially for someone who couldn’t even take a shot. At a certain level, I was embarrassed of my ailment. It’s like you’re being branded as a ‘breast cancer patient’ and you don’t even know how men feel about it. I had withdrawn and would often argue with the doctors. But I’ve realised that grieving can be a big healer and often people don’t allow you to do so. It’s very difficult to live with a fear and I’ve learnt the best way to handle it is to accept it. I was wallowing in self-pity and was recommended to visit a psychiatrist. And I’m not mortified to say so either because I’ve understood the importance of a facilitator in managing trauma… you just need to talk to someone who will help you choose the right route. My doctor suggested me to write. So I started writing poems and I would safely keep them away because every time I’d read them, I’d get upset.  Then one day, the doctor just called me and said I’d die in the next six months (which, he later said wasn’t true). That was a shocker. I wanted to savour every moment I lived. I started taking singing lessons which were very therapeutic. I used to have a very narrow circle of friends. But I started going out much more. I wanted to experience life. I have always lived either in the past or future. But now I live in the present. I found focus all over again. I brought out the poems from the closet five years ago.

That wasn’t the end of my bouts of sickness. About two years back, a lump was detected in my heart and I had to go in for an open-heart surgery. I was in bed for a long time but that was the time when the poems actually started taking shape. I believe vulnerability is a sign of great strength. It gives people a chance to help you. Now I want to write more, travel and meet more people. I don’t want to plan ahead because I really do not know how my next turn will be…

What do you do when the doctor tells you that you just have six months more and as all starts begins to turn dark and you lash out at empty air and howl, he tells you to put your life in order. You do just that. My doctor asks to make a list of things I need to do and all I can think of is my two sons coming home to an empty house. I can hear the clock ticking on his desk and the faint noise of the air conditioner. Where I am it is dark and quiet though I can hear all the street noises. He is handing me a piece of paper and pencil and asking me to plan the last six months of my life. I am lucky he says, I have even got that much, several don’t get that luxury. I have calmed down and I am like a child, I do as he says. I need somebody to tell me what to do. I want to learn to sing, do yoga, take ceative writing courses, write poetry and list goes on. That is where it all started. He calls me at night and explains that needed to shock me out of my ‘I feel so sorry for myself” mood. The unruly lump in my breast has been removed, and I have been fixed to carry on for what is written in the stars. I am angry first, but it has been the best thing happened for some time.

All this happened ten years ago when I went for an eye examination and found myself holding my mammogram. From and ordinary life to one that is less ordinary is not an easy journey. How can I say things about it without sounding clichéd; every moment is a reminder, every small ache or pain, any moment that look in the doctors eye, and it can press all panic buttons. If it sounds like life is seemingly hell, I think it just pushes you to get that last bit out of it any which way. I want more out of life than I ever did.

Just when I thought I had got my life back on stream, I had to be operated again, this time for a lump in my heart. I find that as my body fights these my will to live becomes stronger, nothing is impossible for me, I can do anything. And first thing is to break some of the rules that might hold me back. So I sit down to write a book of poems – I Promise to be a Good Girl, God and also coauthor a  book on marketing – The 86% Solution. Earlier I would have thought this not right – right and left brained thinking must be compartmentalised. But I hope some of the rights will not stop me. Do I have plans, I have learnt that the road I am on is not a straight path and I must be prepared to take the surprise turns……

Kamini Banga..