What role does happiness play in cancer treatment?

What does it mean for the families who have lost loved ones to the disease? Ayan Roy tries to find out

Being diagnosed with cancer can make one anxious, afraid and overwhelmed. Happiness jumps out of the window the moment the doctor shares the diagnosis. But coping with and defeating the ‘Big C’ needs more than just medicines or a dietary change. It also needs the patients and their near and dear ones to be happy’. That’s right, HAPPY.

Sonali Bendre, who has successfully battled cancer, reveals that she had made sure to “switch on her sunshine” and was constantly updating her social media family about her battle against cancer. In an Instagram post which showed her sitting with gal pals Gayatri Joshi and Sussanne Roshan, she wrote, “This is me. And in this moment, I am really happy. People give me strange looks when I say that now, but it’s true and I’ll tell you why.

I am now paying attention to every moment, looking for every opportunity to find joy and #SwitchOnTheSunshine.” She admitted that there were moments of pain and low energy, but that she was doing what she liked, spending time with people she loved, and feeling loved and happy. She even joked about her post-chemo bald look, saying, “P.S. Nowadays I spend far less time getting ready because I don’t have to fuss over my hair!”

What role does happiness play in cancer treatment?

Take for example Divya Mathur, a homemaker now, who was in her mid 30s and a teacher when diagnosed with Grade 4 ovarian cancer in 2010. Only after 8.5 years of very aggressive treatment that included four relapses, two major surgeries, 34 cycles and 85 sessions of chemotherapy, the disease is in complete remission.

But despite this long ordeal she remains positive and thankful. According to her, “Cancer also has a positive side to it.” She says, “Cancer, or any other terminal illness for that matter, also brings with it a lot of positive qualities that are otherwise lying dormant somewhere in us. Hope, courage, love, compassion, appreciation, determination, faith, gratitude, empathy and self-awareness are just some of these positives.”

Cancer as teacher

She adds, “In my case, cancer has taught me some very valuable lessons of my life. One of them is to be positive. This definitely does not mean that we have to be positive or happy all the time. If you feel the need to cry, please do cry. If you want to vent out your emotions, please do so. Pent up emotions do more harm than letting go. Understand that not every negative can be changed into a positive. So, accept the reality and deal with it in the best possible manner.”

She reiterates, “Positive attitude is one of the most important factors in handling such mind boggling and difficult situations. Especially, when one has to confront relapses, time and again.”

Tania Sen, a professor of Economics, who was treated for renal carcinoma, concurs. But adds that even the patient’s loved ones need to stay positive. She says, “My family was very positive, brave and supportive during the entire period beginning from the initial detection till post-operative stage. This gave me immense strength to be able to go through the entire journey.”

But not all those around you will be positive. There will be those who may bog you down with their “well-intentioned, but resigned-to-fate conversations” as Divya describes them. She suggests, “It is easier to fight the disease and tough situations, but far more difficult and daunting to deal with these people who may know how to sympathise, but don’t understand empathy.” But instead of letting such people get to you, it is important to look inwards and find joy inside.

 So does this journey change your perception of happiness? Tania, who is in her mid-40s, talks about how post remission the idea of happiness has come to mean “being able to lead a simple and healthy life”. She maintains, “It has made me learn to value the simple pleasures of life.”

What role does happiness play in cancer treatment?

Giving Back

Divya also talks about how she and her husband, Ambuj, are giving back to the community since they believe in the adage that “happiness is contagious and it empowers people”. “We spend loads of time counselling people undergoing treatment. We have decided to invest our life savings into setting up a medicine testing lab. The idea is to help improve the efficacy and efficiency of the process by helping certify medicines in third party labs like ours, which have the highest possible global accreditation. This would reduce the wastage on account of recalls and thus bring down cost for everyone.”

Letting go of the past

But not all who are diagnosed survive. What about those who are left behind? How do they cope with the loss and grief? How do they find happiness once again?

Ryan, a content writer, lost his mother to the Big C. Ryan says, “I wasn’t near her when she passed so it was doubly hard for me. Despite more than a decade having passed, it is still very raw. The grief can be overpowering, but you can’t let it control your life. You have to move on.”

He has some advice for others who have also lost someone to cancer. “You move on by first admitting your loss and grieving. Only once the grieving process runs its course can one let go off the past and move on. While you can never forget the one who has left, one can become stronger and happier by remembering the good moments, being positive and by focusing on what is important to you – be it your family, yourself or job.”

In his memoir ‘Lucky Man’, Hollywood star Michael J. Fox talks about being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a degenerative neurological condition – and living with it. He writes about how he is lucky to have got Parkinson’s, after all it has given him the chance to appreciate a wonderful life and career, and the opportunity to help search for a cure and spread public awareness of the disease.

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