Updated: Oct 12, 2018
Im going to start with a little throwback of why I did this series and then explain the rest. I did this series as it was my personal goal. I did it part of my final project before I finished my (photography) college. I had promised myself that one day I would document how my illness made me feel to how I came out off it, through my art and I finally had the courage and the time to do it. Sharing my story was something I had to do, so finally in 2015 I did it. I shaved my head mainly for this to make it as authentic as possible.
This series represents how it made me feel to how I came out feeling and how doing this series made me finally feel. Special thanks to my people Apeksha, Dhanish, Savni, Nikhil & my lovely help Archana to make this possible.
I was always bigger than my classmates. Starting from the 4th and 5th grade I began getting teased and bullied for being bigger than others. At first I didn’t know what it meant but days later I would see myself standing in front of mirrors hating my body or staring at my friends wondering why I can't wear that or questioning if I will I ever be able to wear that. And this just increased as I got older, so did the teasing and the name calling.
I always say it isn’t their fault, it’s society. We’re taught certain things at a young age and it sticks with you. Even the bad. We’re taught unwanted things like what's pretty and ugly, fat and thin, tall and short, fair and dark. And that sticks and you call people out when you think someone is not the way they’re “supposed to be”.
I would put myself through hell to cover my fat, to fit in, to not have people call me these names. I wanted to feel pretty, be pretty, be thin and wear clothes without being conscious off my body, or realising my body is “ugly” compared to my friends.
I reached grade 9 now and since grade 6 I had ways to cover myself so no unwanted fat would be seen. Grade 9 was a black V neck woollen sweater that I would wear all day everyday no matter what. I still have it actually, it does look pretty good. People thought I was probably doing it for fashion but I just wanted to look in the mirror and feel thin. I also decided at this time I should stop eating because I mean it’s the "only" way I can lose weight & I wasn’t good at sports so this seemed most logical. So I did what I thought was right, ate as less as possible.
At the same time I ended up finding my first real boyfriend. A senior at that. I wondered why he liked me at first, I was just the quiet fat girl but I was ecstatic. I thought things were finally falling into place when I suddenly, I started falling ill. Every other week. My knee suddenly giving out when I got off the bus, next my back giving me shooting pain I had to make people carry my stuff because it was that bad.
One day I had to get admitted, the vomiting wasn't stopping and my back was so bad at this point I didn’t let anyone touch me because of the pain. A whole bunch of chaos later I’m told I have cancer.
I’m pretty shocked just hearing it because when does anyone ever imagine this. I felt my heart break as I realised I cannot go back to school and 9th was supposed to be one of the most important year. And now it was all over. But, I still didn’t feel fear yet. It was weird.
Everyone but me knew the cancer was in the last stage, my bones were getting effected and hence the shooting pain. It’s not like they kept it from me I just didn’t understand it at the moment. I didn’t know 4th stage meant last or critical.
The doctor said they’d have to give me intense chemotherapy - strongest in the hospital at that time. He told me these medicines are going to go in through a pipe that they will fix into my chest soon through surgery so they don’t need to keep pricking me every other day (clearly I was going to be here for long). It’ll go in easily but the side effects can be bad. Chemotherapy basically kills all cells in your body, the bad and the good. He listed them out - loss of hair, vomiting, constipation, fevers, etc etc. and he said it all depends on the medication you may not even have that many. And I was like okay, this seems do-able. 6 cycles of this and that’s all. Easy peezy. I'll be out without no time.
Nope, nope, not easy at all. The side effects start like a volcano just throwing some smoke at first and you’re not even sure if it’s gonna erupt but there is a chance of an explosion but you can never exactly tell when.
Hair always falls so that started immediately. I got myself short hair before it started, even that eventually fell out. All that went through my mind was why didn’t I colour my hair when I had the chance? I was so scared what my peers would think I kept delaying it even though I wanted to so badly and here I am. But this was the easy part.
Then the vomiting started, then the ulcers, then the fevers then the volcano just erupted. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t even drink water. The ulcers were like fire in my mouth. They had to stop solid food and put it down through the pipe in my chest. I’m forgetting several other side effects but I was basically a vegetable - tied down to that bed - not by choice - I just couldn’t move.
The next cycle can only start once all this goes and all your blood counts come back to normal and that would take a good 20-25 days. My blood count on some days was 20; it’s supposed to be 5000 and up. My platelets would be in thousands when it's meant to be in lakhs. My haemoglobin was 5 once I remember. So yeah I was weak. Really really weak. A lot of blood & platelet transfusions later, somehow I would push through & get to normal for maybe just 2 days. I'm still so thankful for the dozens of people who came and donated blood for me. I wish there was a way for me to thank them. Im saying dozens because it actually was dozens. I needed 8 bags in one day at one point. Without these people I would have never got back my strength. Grateful for these wonderful strangers, some even acquaintances.
Anyway it was the same tedious routine 5 more times to finish my treatment.
During then 3rd cycle we were warned if the cells are not dying we’ll have to do more to kill them - like radiation or stem cells transplant. We were prepared but somehow they were all dying already. My scans showed improvement and we ended up just doing 6 cycles of Chemotherapy.
6 - 7 months odd I spent in the hospital, almost the whole hospital knew who I was. I would call this my home; as I had been to my actual home only 2 days a month and even that we’d have to rush back because of some complications.
I was thin now, skinny rather. I made my mom buy me all these pretty dresses I wanted to wear before. Sleeveless was a myth for me and now I could actually wear it. It was surreal. I had about 10 fabulous wigs, all different styles. So on my good days, I would dress the hell up. I didn't wanna look like a sick person, I already felt like one so I couldnt let myself look like one could I? Atleast not all the time. Every time I was home and had to come back to the hospital I would come back with long hair, fabulous clothes - if it wasn’t for the wheel chairs and the mask covering my face, no one would know I was sick. Many people even asked me regularly if that was my real hair. I had fun telling them it’s a wig.
I had a usual room on the 11th floor, they’d always try to get me that. So many people in the hospital knew me so well they tried making me as comfortable as possible. Grateful for that even.
I remember this one time - a nurse was helping me sit up and I looked myself in the mirror opposite to me, I was so skinny right now, this was what I wanted to be. My stomach was never ever flat in my life and now there’s nothing there. All the fat was gone. I tortured myself before this to reach this image. And here I am, unable to sit up without anyone’s help, just trying to survive. Why didn’t I just live? Why didn’t I colour my hair? Why didn’t I wear that dress I wanted too? Why didn’t I do things that made me happy instead of trying to please the world around me - and to be honest half of that world wasn’t even there with me now. I felt like a fool. And I promised myself, once I get out of here - which I was pretty positive off at that time, I would do exactly what I wanted.
Months later and several discharge reports later, it was the final one. I couldn’t walk yet but I wanted to just walk out of this hospital. I was sick of the wheel chairs & stretchers. I felt the energy in my body I knew I could do it. I had been practising slightly for a week.
I wanted to read that report before I left, and there it was the words “cured from final stage of cancer” and I was like what the hell? I didn’t even know that. I was surprised. I got to know it was quite bad, the doctors didn’t have hope when I first came in and here I was today, getting ready in my wig and my dress, holding the same stuffed toy I strolled in with, walking out of the hospital (which I did successfully btw). I felt proud. I had fought this thing. It felt great, it’s like I had won. And since I was terrible at sports I hadn’t really won anything before so this was a great first win.
Anyway, I still needed rest once I got home. It was weird being back home in my own bed. I was so used to other things. I had missed a year of school by now. My school was generous enough to offer a promotion to the 10th grade if I wanted to come back the new school year. But I declined. How could I possibly go to the 10th grade and give my boards when I missed a whole year of everything? It would be more stress and pressure. More importantly, if im doing something, I wanna do it right.
So I re-did my 9th which a whole new bunch of people but my friends from the previous grade were there for a few months. My best friends were really happy to have me back. And it was so good to feel like ive come back to things where I had left it. I wore a wig for a long time, I still had some insecurities left. I find it stupid now cause I looked fabulous when I shaved my head, if only I thought it then. But baby steps got me where I am today. Oh, and first thing I did when the wig was off was to colour my hair the colour I had wanted. Clearly, I haven't stopped. My high school boyfriend and I also managed to get back and started a serious relationship and he became the love of my life and I became his. Didn't exactly go perfectly, but I still had the chance to atleast start it perfectly and thats what matters.
Through my cancer and after I always found people not wanting to talk about it as it made them scared, awkward, or they thought I felt the same. It was confusing. I wanted to share my story not for sympathy or pity, I just wanted to share it as something I went through. Sometimes I wanted to share the pain as well, and most importantly after everything, I wanted to share it as an accomplishment. But I felt like I had to keep quiet. But I told myself one day I would share this story in the best possible way. And hence created this self portrait series to depict my journey. Sharing it made me feel free. It felt like a part off me was always kept hidden which I didn’t want too. I was proud and I wanted others going through this or anything actually to not be scared, or feel like it’s wrong to share but it’s absolutely okay to do it. I wanted people suffering to know you don’t have to keep it in, you don’t have to worry what will people think. You're just as much allowed to share pain, as we share happiness, because it is real and it exists. We cannot disregard it. Our society has weird stigma’s. And talking about pain and trauma is one of them. They’re either scared or they don’t want to come off as weak. But why? We’re all scared of something, we’re all powerless to so many things. Why live in this delusion that not talking bout it makes people think better of you. It’s stupid, just like happiness, pain should be shared too. It’s the only way to move forward, together.
But the most important part is, I see this experience as a blessing to me. Yes I went through hell and I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody but it’s what made me who I am. It made me this positive, strong, semi-confident, colourful, bold, some what fearless, crazy person I am today. It gave me the strength to go through life on my own terms not caring bout people’s opinions or societies rules. It gave me the positivity to move past every bad situation that came my way. It gave me the fearless attitude that intern as fueled all the other things listed. It gave me the courage to even do this series and pen this down today, and for that im eternally thankful.
I believe we all go through bad things more as a lesson to be learnt than a punishment. But its upto us how we choose to react to it. And I chose the positive, colourful path that I know exists with every situation, its just upto you.
And through my journey and my work I try my best to show what all I’ve learnt from this. Mainly - self love, self care and acceptance with a whole bunch of positivity & that can beat anything. Live your life for you, not for your insecurities, or peoples opinions, or society’s validation, or even fear. Accept and love yourself and live. Life is beautiful and it’s the little things that matter. We’re all looking for happiness but it exists already. In all the little things around us. Live for the little things. And don’t be afraid to be you, because that is your super power - NO ONE IS YOU.
Below are actual pictures from this whole time mainly 2007-2008. No one has seen except family. I think if Im writing such a detailed post actual visuals may help. Its also a way to understand my message better, my photo series and maybe even me better. Im not afraid to show how I was, Ive never been, Im just skeptical this maybe too personal but hey, why should people always get to see only the good side of me, its nice to see how much someone has grown. I can't disregard the past because like i mentioned above, its made me who I am. So here goes. The next is the self portrait series.
The end, thank you for letting me share.