Last year, Bollywood actor Sonali Bendre shocked everyone by announcing on social media that she had been diagnosed with ‘high-grade cancer’. On Saturday, Sonali opened up about her fight against cancer, the treatment and how she and her husband Goldie Behl reacted to it. The actor called it a “different phase in her life”.
Sonali said, “It was a different phase in my life. My husband and I say BC and AC, before cancer and after cancer. It is like a different lifetime. I did not look at what was happening to me. I did not ask too many questions. Probably as women, we are taught that ‘sehen-shakti acchhi baat hoti hai’ (it is good to have a will power and tolerate pain). We have to be tough and endure pain. We are told that we have to bear a child, so we have to bear pain. We are all told this and so we kind of internalise that. You tell yourselves that we can bear the pain and go on.”
Sonali Bendre was speaking at CAHOCON 2019 organised by Consortium of Accredited Healthcare Organisation (CAHO) in Mumbai.
The actor also revealed how she kept on ignoring the signals her body was giving her. She said, “I kept telling myself that I am putting in an eighteen-hour day, so obviously I am fine. And now that I look back, I ask myself – How did I do that? Then the question is – Why did I put up with this pain? What was I waiting for? For me to collapse and understand what my body was trying to tell me? So, it comes down to the fact that my body was giving me signals, but I was not looking at it as I should have.”
Sonali Bendre then opened up about the treatment she has been undergoing to fight the disease. She said, “When I started listening to the signals, I went in for a TCRE procedure. These are some of the medical terms that I now know. Then suddenly we discovered that there was something in there that was causing this whole thing all this while. Then we came out of there and discovered that it was not just there, it was spreading all over and that too very fast. It was the fourth stage, so I don’t know how I pulled it off till then, but that was a shocker.”
She also shared why she chose to go to the US for her treatment. The actor said, “I was in New York for the treatment as my husband was very clear that he did not want to take any chances. I was literally fighting with him that my child is young and my home is here. It was literally only two days after the diagnosis that we packed our bags and left. I didn’t know when I was coming back and what was happening, or where I was going. It was just the two of us and we didn’t really have the time to discuss with too many people. He got the appointment and we just took off. I kept fighting with him that how can I just leave like that? But when we reached there, and when I got to know the extent of this, somewhere I did honestly feel that ‘Thank God, I am here’.”
“He (Behl) explained to me that he knew that I would have gotten care here (in India) too. The fact remains that we went there because this was the only disease that they (the hospital) dealt with. His logic was that if for so many years they have been dealing only with cancer, there would be more data collected, more intuition that was going to be there. He said that we were at a stage where he did not want to take a chance. His idea was that he was fine with realising one day that he over thought and over reacted to our situation rather than later feeling that ‘I should have done this’. He didn’t want to take that chance,” the 43-year-old actor added.
Sonali Bendre emphasised on the importance of early detection and awareness when it comes to dealing with cancer. She said, “This is a disease that is scary, no doubt about it. It is not a disease that can be diagnosed easily. Early detection is the most important thing when this disease is concerned. I feel the disease is less scary than the treatment. I feel that sometime. Had I detected it early, there were more chances. It would cost me less, and I would go through less painful treatments. I would have had more options in treatment also. I didn’t know this disease could have been pre-empted, because nobody talks about it. When it happened to me, I realised how many people in my family had it and had not spoken about it. I was like I wish I knew. I would have never thought that this was never going to happen to me.”
Sonali openly shared her fight against cancer story on social media too. She said, “I put a post out on social media (announcing her diagnosis) as I was doing some work and did not want any gossip around it. Children are much more tech savvy today, so I didn’t want my son hearing and reading something wrong. So, I wanted to tell my story myself. When I put it out, I was shocked with the response that I got. People from all strata of society were writing to me and discussing it. So, I was like if this is so prevalent then why I had not heard of it? I didn’t know it was so rampant. I realised how people are holding on to their stories and never shared it. So, when I shared my story, and people shared their story, I realised that I was not alone. That the disease was not so unique, and that I was not so special that only I had cancer. Anybody could get it. The next post that I put out was to thank people because their support made me less alone. I came to know about more people who have it but haven’t shared their stories. So, I had to thank people who actually shared their stories with me. It made me feel like a part of a community. Then I started putting out more stories. I didn’t know so many people cared for me, and that was the best thing that came out of my journey. It was a great thing to realise that even if I died, I would have died knowing that I was loved by so many people. Thankfully I haven’t (died) but yes.”
“When I came back (to Mumbai), I realised that we need to make it an open thing. It is not something that needed hiding and keeping it only limited to the family. Our mental state was going down the hill because I was living with that pain and the caregivers also need to vent. Hiding these things takes a toll on your mental health, and it is hard to recover from that. It becomes a vicious circle. So, if me talking about it leads to people sharing their stories, then I am happy to do that.” Sonali Bendre concluded.