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To Cancer, With Love

Thursday, October 08, 2015

What could possibly be funny about being diagnosed with cancer... twice? Anindra Siqueira speaks with Neelam Kumar about her new book, which manages to scrape out a smidge of comic flavour about the disease

She’s been hit by cancer twice, but that doesn’t make her bitter. Not only does she look at life with renewed vigour, she manages to find humour in it. Everything isn’t arbitrary. Life isn’t colourless or flavourless. It doesn’t have to be. Her latest book, To Cancer With Love – My Journey of Joy, captures the resilience of the human spirit. But, it also explores the funny side of life. We caught up with Neelam Kumar — an author who has a repertoire of books to her name — to find out how she fought her battle with the dreaded disease.

Cancer is a very serious subject and any discourse on it usually takes on a very sombre tone. How did you manage to tap into its humorous side?
Life always gives you a choice. You can either look at its grim side or the bright side. Having gone through a roller-coaster ride, I decided that I would focus on the bright side. That is the only way to handle the problems that life throws at us.

In fact, the book is not just about cancer. It deals with several other problems that we face, including communication breakdowns, relationship deadlocks, financial hardships as well as every  kind of fear and adversity. I consider the book a do-it-yourself, interactive guide to working through personal issues in a rational manner.

Life is not an easy journey and humour is the best way to deal with it. My book has an email id ([email protected]) where people can send in their short stories of having overcome adversities with joy. Who knows? It may become the fodder for my next book — a collaborative effort with my readers.

What message does the book give those afflicted with cancer, cancer survivors and those who have never been diagnosed with the disease?
My life is proof of how I overcame my problem through a two-pronged approach — modern medicine and the greatest medicine for the spirit, Nichiren Buddhism, which empowers you to confront any situation with joy. Victory is guaranteed to anyone who chants the short, powerful mantra, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. If it works well for over 12 million people around the globe and for over one lakh people in India, it will work for you!

I am grateful to Manisha Koirala, who has written the powerful foreword for my book. This is what she has to say: “I know how lonely and terrifying the journey can be… All of us must take this book as an inspiration for our own life.”

Can you tell us a little about your successful battle with cancer? How much did it change you?
Because of my strong belief in the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra (a Buddhist principle governing life), I was determined to win. Look at the gifts I got — curly hair, new cells, a perspective as vast as the ocean, compassion as deep as the sea, an appreciation for the gift of life and, above all, a whacky sense of humour!

What advice would you have for someone who has cancer, from a psychological standpoint?
Pump up your immune system with joy, courage and faith. Believe that this is just a bump in the road of your life. You will overcome it and enjoy the breathtaking view on the other side of the bump!

What sort of positivity does one have to draw upon if they, or a loved one, have been diagnosed with cancer?
All the resources we need are inside us. Believe in that, hold on to that faith and look inside for courage, compassion, wisdom and joy. We humans are the Treasure Tower (a Buddhist concept that symbolises ultimate reality).

How important was the support of loved ones for you in your battle against cancer? Can you give us any insights?
Support from family members is crucial to the process of your emotional well being. The way your family deals with you is also important. I was fortunate that my family became my cheerleaders rather than sympathisers. My 86-year-old mother kept saying, “But, you are a brave girl, Neelu! You can fight this small problem.”

Having said that, let me tell you that many well-wishers were not as empathetic. Some wished me “Bon Voyage!” Others sobbed in front of me, shook my hand and said, “It was nice knowing you, madam!” I found this supremely funny!

What drove you to write a book about cancer — with a humorous take, no less?
I feel as though there is too much grimness and pessimism surrounding it. When I was under attack by a few of my errant cells, I was looking for some positivity to cheer me up. I read some of the most powerful books on the topic, which included Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture. Everything had profound messages, but they all ended with death! That depressed me. I did not want any doomsday predictions. I wanted my story to be a happily-ever-after.

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