Neelam Kumar has battled cancer, twice. ‘So what?’ she said, and wrote the first funny book on the subject. Reema Behl met the fighter
Neelam Kumar, 58, wrote these lines when she discovered that her cancer had returned for the second time. The Mumbai resident, who is the author of ‘India’s first humourous book on cancer’ says, “When you are a victim, you only find pity in the eyes of everyone around you. Even classic Bollywood movies like Anand show the silently- suffering hero eventually dying. I wanted people to say, ‘No big deal!’ Instead, I met people who said, ‘Nice to have known you, ma’am.’ They were horrified when I reacted with, ‘Wait a minute, where am I going? I might just outlive you!’” When Neelam found no happy literature on cancer in India, she decided to write one on her own.
“The book, To Cancer, With Love—My Journey Of Joy, is about my alter ego, Carol, who emerged in my darkest moments to make me see life through her own lens of undiluted joy. Carol is witty, spunky and a joyous adversity fighter.” Neelam’s book has got a great response in India and overseas. “One Indian dies of cancer every 50 seconds. The numbers are predicted to double within the next 20 years. Everyone is looking for hope. My book inspires people to discover their own Carol—the part of them that is strong and remains undefeated.”
The book has helped people in unexpected ways and in faraway places. Neelam says, “In the UK, there’s a woman who carries my book to every session of chemotherapy. She wrote to me saying that my survival story prompted her to not give up on hope just yet. Such letters and responses make you feel empowered and help you move ahead in your journey.” Life threw a series of challenges at Neelam and she says it helped her discover herself in a whole new light.
“Life handed me a horror script: widowhood at 35, single parenting, financial hardships and relationship breakdowns. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, shortly after my husband’s demise. I felt gripped by a fear like I had never experienced before. ‘Who will take care of my kids?’, ‘How will they survive?’, ‘What will they eat?’—my own mind hounded me with endless questions. I looked for emotional support around me and found strength in the Buddhist philosophy of (the monk) Nichiren Daishonin.” Drawing from her experiences, Neelam decided to empower others emotionally. “Cancer taught me that even those without the disease are suffering and I must reach out to them,” she says. So she devised a life skills module aimed to help school children. “I am invited all over the country to give lectures to school kids. I cover topics like dealing with the pressures of the digital world, teenage angst, etc. I also conduct workshops for parents and teachers.”
PHOTOGRAPH: VINAY PANJWANI