Neelam Chandra in Jamshedpur on Sunday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me - Ingrid Bergman.
The brave words of the beautiful Academy Award-winning Swedish actress has found remarkable resonance in the indomitable spirit of a mother of two who is not just battling breast cancer for four years, but is counselling others on how not to give up.
Neelam Chandra, a girl born and brought up in Jamshedpur and currently settled in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, was diagnosed with the disease in 2012. She was only 38, with a loving husband and two wonderful children - Snehal then seven and Soumya only four. When doctors declared her malignancy, their happy world started falling apart.
"Cancer is a disease that touches everyone around you. Snehal tried to fathom the problem as she was included in family discussions. Soumya was too young and had trouble recognising me when surgery, chemotherapy and radiation changed the way I looked. She used to cry and say, ' pehli-wali mummy chahiye jiske sundar baal the'," the 42-year-old crusader recalled at a talk hosted by Brahmakumaris at their Universal Peace Palace on Marine Drive on Sunday.
Neelam was blessed with a very supportive family, including parents and in-laws. "My husband handled the situation tactfully by involving Soumya in creative work. We realised that cancer can affect anyone, irrespective of age, sex, social or financial status. Early detection is the best protection. Knowledge is power, more involved you become in your treatment, the more empowered you will feel. It is important to remember that a patient with courage, determination and hope to get well can fight the disease in a better manner than an unresponsive and depressed patient," she said.
Neelam practised what she now preaches at talk shows like this and in her debut book Battling Cancer with Positive Attitude: My Way, which was published in 2014.
"I have been sharing my story at awareness programmes for two years with the hope to help other cancer patients to find their own strength and never give up," said the alumnus of St Mary's English School, Bistupur, who completed her PG in social work from Agra University.
Currently associated with LN Cancer Hospital in Jabalpur and Art of Living Foundation as a counsellor and speaker, Neelam underscores the need to understand the disease. "Stay informed and you are halfway there. Next, seek second opinions from oncologists - third, if necessary - speak to cancer survivors, practise yoga and meditation for physical and mental well-being," she said.
Neelam still takes hormone therapy tablets and undergoes follow-up treatment every six months, but is eager to address sessions in schools, colleges and social and corporate forums to educate more and more people about cancer. Interestingly, she shares her story through Power Point presentations because she firmly believes that pictures speak a thousand words.
Sister Anju, the co-ordinator of Brahmakumaris in Jamshedpur, said they decided to host Neelam because she had her roots in Jamshedpur and had great oratory skills. The Brahmakumaris plan similar sessions at city clubs as well as in Ghatshila and Adityapur this week.