February 4 is marked as World Cancer Day to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. This year the theme is ‘I Am and I will’ and we find this commitment to overcome and shine even during adversity in Radhika Gupta.
So how do I describe her? Let me start with what she does. She is a psychological counsellor at Whistling Woods International and Project Manager at Vedary. She is also a trained yoga teacher, a qualification which she picked up during the time she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Her classes on life skills, psychology and philosophy, workshops on meditation and art exude positive vibes. And it doesn’t end here. She is also a talented artist and has even put together an exhibition of vibrant works she painted while undergoing chemotherapy. All through the journey of cancer, she radiated a glow so intense that it overshadowed the physical changes which cancer brings with it.
To me, she is the face of what cancer cannot do to you. Breast cancer, in particular, is a diminishing diagnosis which strips a woman of what is the conventional idea of femininity. It requires a great amount of acceptance and self-love to be even able to tread on the path, and I find it highly inspirational when someone can do that with a smile and then emerge even stronger. Sharing excerpts of my conversation with this spirited and gorgeous woman.
What is the most common misconception about cancer?
Radhika Gupta: That cancer is about surviving. It’s not. Cancer is about overcoming. Cancer is not a physical disorder, it’s an emotional one.
What’s that you feel you need most during diagnosis?
Radhika Gupta: Everyone needs a really strong support system. Positive, happy, strong people around who don’t make a big deal out of it. There’s good treatment available now and tons of research, so one can be pushed to make the most of it. Its imperative auto work with a psychologist during this time to identify certain patterns and to create a plan to overcome them.
What were your fears initially and what helped you overcome those?
Radhika Gupta: I was blessed to have a really good doctor who answered all my questions. With that kind of clarity and a clear path ahead the fears were significantly low. The biggest worry was the side effects of the chemo as I was always afraid to be nauseous. I always had a high threshold for pain so that wasn’t a worry. But I had really good caregivers, so I’m grateful for that.
What is the best thing, you read or someone said to you, which gave you most strength?
Radhika Gupta: I was reading You can heal your life by Louise Hay and that gave me a lot of perspectives. It has helped me take responsibility for my life rather than feeling like a victim. I made clear goals and stuck to them.
How did the process change your concept of beauty?
Radhika Gupta: Everything that made me feel like a woman (my breast, hair and periods) were taken away from me during this time. However, I realised that my experience of life and the fun I had, had lesser and lesser to do with extrinsic beauty. I began to see myself more than a good-looking woman and that changed everything for me.
After and during the treatment how did you rebuild your immunity, and regain your skin and hair health? Does it happen default as the treatment comes to an end or do you need to take special care?
Radhika Gupta: The doctors won’t tell you this but it’s essential to take extra care to re-build yourself. To detox the body of all the poison that goes in during the treatment, one must go through a strict detox regime. I focussed on eating tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, soups, lentils, nuts and seeds. I completely cut out sugar, dairy and carbs after my chemo was over and during immunotherapy. Eating out was a complete no-no too. I have given up a lot after my diagnosis but I’m fitter at 33 than I was at 13 or 23!
How did yoga help you regain your strength?
Radhika Gupta: Yoga helped me cleanse my system during and after chemo. It not only helped me build physical strength but also mental and emotional resilience. It calmed my anxieties, gave me more energy and added great joy to my life. I slowly built stamina until I was strong enough to do a Yoga Teacher Training Course. There has been no looking back since then.
What lifestyle changes helped you during that time and now have become a habit?
Radhika Gupta: The food bit really helped, during my yoga Teacher Training Course, I was introduced to Ayurveda and that gave me a whole new perspective about my body. I realised that as a Vata body type I must introduce the right kind of nutrition into the system with more water-rich and good-fat foods rather than eating raw foods. It helped me accept and love my body and mind more. Practising yoga and pranayama have given me the stability I have always craved and added a new dimension of calmness to my life.
What gave you the strength to carry on during the difficult process of chemotherapy?
Radhika Gupta: Art was a form of catharsis which helped me clean my emotional system beautifully and colourfully. Every time I would return from chemo, I would paint my pain away!
What would you like to share on this world cancer day?
Radhika Gupta: Cancer transformed me. Even though I wouldn’t want to go through it again, I would still say that it was important for me at the time to go through that process. It helped me accept and love myself and gave me time to release the negative emotions that I was suppressing. Whatever adversity may come in life, we must learn to see an opportunity in it and find a way to turn it into a learning and growing experience.
My takeaway from this inspiring real story is, ‘we can learn from everything that happens in life and once we start to believe that the universe is on our side, every adversity can be turned into an opportunity.’
Do share if there was part of Radhika’s journey of overcoming cancer touched you or inspired you to become stronger.