Film-Maker Tahira Kashyap Shares Her Cancer Journey

Author and film-maker Tahira Kashyap, wife of Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana, chooses to look life in the eye and face problems head-on. And her 'hero' is with her, every step of the way.

By Aarti Kapur Singh

Film-Maker Tahira Kashyap Shares Her Cancer Journey
"When cancer shows up, show it the way out!" 

When 35-year-old Tahira Kashyap, author (I Promise, Souled Out), film-maker (Toffee), speaker and wife of Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana shared a bald and bespectacled picture on her social media handles, the sweetest comment came from her husband. He simply responded 'Hottie!' For Ayushmann, it was not about indulging in public display of affection (PDA) but more about boosting the morale of a beloved warrior fighting a deadly disease.

Small wonder then that bold and beautiful Tahira calls her husband her 'backbone' and a true 'hero'. Here are excerpts from a conversation that, incidentally, happened within 24 hours of Tahira undergoing a radiation session.

‘Posers and Lovers’ is a beautiful caption to the lovely photo you shared on your birthday. What made this birthday special…

I had a blast celebrating my birthday along with Ayushmann and my close pals. I was diagnosed with cancer on 14 September 2018, which was Ayushmann's birthday. After the diagnosis, we decided to deal with this devastating discovery with positivity. Rather than go home and worry, we went for a movie and finalised the date for my mastectomy. We both knew we are not going to give in and instead, chose to be happy. Also, my birthday was several steps ahead of where we had been, so the celebrations had to be grand! I am glad to have family, children and friends who keep me propped up. So, I owe it to them to fight and not give up!

How did you react when you got your diagnosis? How difficult was it to come out in the open about it?

I was asked to undergo a series of tests — an ultrasound, a mammogram, a biopsy and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan — and I must confess that I did panic. I was detected with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in my right breast with high-grade malignant cells. My first step was to familiarise myself with the medical jargon and listen to what the doctors were saying. I underwent mastectomy and chemotherapy. But, the stage 0 cancer came back as stage 1A cancer. That was a really tough phase, not just for me but everyone around. Ayushmann would shoot or promote his movies during the day and come to the hospital to be with me at night. Also, Aparshakti, my brother-in-law, kept me motivated and in high spirits.

Going public with the diagnosis wasn't something which needed much contemplation! Anyone can develop cancer; I felt that it was important to talk open up — about accepting and respecting its unpredictability, keeping faith, showing courage and understanding life. Again, it was the zest and spirit of people around me that rubbed off on me.

How hard was it to share your cancer diagnosis with your children? How did they cope and in turn, help you cope with the news…

I had prepared myself. I am the one who gets the children ready and sends them off to school. So, I got a few gifts for them and told them that if they get dressed and go to school happily without crying, they would get a present every day. I may have bribed them into behaving and they didn’t disappoint me! (laughs) On a more serious note, my son, Virajveer, who is six years old, is adorable, but my daughter Varushka, who is four, is really naughty. I told my children, "Mom is going to the hospital for a week and she’s going to come back braver, like a soldier. You need to take care that you don’t jump on, Mom." 

I could’ve told them I’m going on a holiday, but I want my children to develop patience and empathise with those who’re suffering. I called them to the hospital as I wanted them to see what was happening so they wouldn’t be scared once I was home. And, when I returned home, I was received with cards and a lot of love. I’m like a warrior for my son. He has been my greatest source of strength but he was stressed and worried. I think his worried face made me recover on the double! While I was in the hospital, it was my mom and my husband who took care of the children.

A cancer diagnosis can be life-changing. Did it make a difference in you and your family’s life?

I think every individual in my family has tried their best to remain calm. Yes, there were times when my parents seemed really worried — but they took care not to display their feelings before me. My father would try to entertain us — he was an emotional anchor throughout my treatment. I owe it to my best friend Komal Sehgal, my husband Ayushmann Khurrana and my parents, Yajan and Anita Kashyap. Also, as a professional, when you are supported and made to feel dependable, the resilience to fight becomes stronger. I owe this to Atul Kasbekar, Tanuj Garg, Shruti Venkatrama, and Shanti. All of them were shocked when they heard about my diagnosis but didn't give up on me. So, how could I feel low when everyone around me was so resilient!

The mastectomy left me with even more self-love! Big, small, left or right inclined, gravity-pulling or defying, or even none, each breast — the presence or lack of it — has a story to tell. Mine has made me a 2.0 version of myself!

Tell us about the people who have made you stronger.

Every person who made me laugh, motivated me to fight and made me feel positive! But more than anyone, it is my husband Ayushmann. When I told my husband that one of my breasts felt heavier than the other, he immediately fixed an appointment with the doctor. Ayushmann accompanied me everywhere, even when I told him he didn't need to. He remained calm while dealing with the challenges in his professional and personal life. Only a hero can do that. Ayushmann and Komal, my best friend, were my backbone during my treatment.

I broke down when I heard I had to undergo a mastectomy. Ayushmann told me, ‘Are you crazy? You were okay with the malignant cancer, but when the doc is talking about its removal, you’re crying? That’s so silly!'

How do you stay positive through your treatment?

I never thought that living in denial would have been a good idea. I wanted to see the problem in the eye. So, I remain focused on what I had to do. I practice Nichiren Buddhism — I chant and that gives me strength. I believe that whatever life throws at us, we must deal with it. That is the only way to be happy. So, when cancer showed up, I decided to show it the way out!

When a strong woman with a voice of her own speaks about fighting cancer, everyone pays attention. Any plans on cancer awareness?

I think educating men about breast cancer is crucial to help women become proactive against the illness. After all, my fight against breast cancer wouldn’t have been possible without the unconditional love and support of a few really strong men in my life — my dad, my husband, my brother-in-law, some really close friends, and even, my son! As much as I want women to know, I want the men around them to know as well. I am vocal about cancer as I want to spread awareness; and assert the importance of self-love and resilience that I know each one of us possesses. Breast cancer is the one of most researched cancers and a curable one now. The hesitation to discuss something life-altering is often from the woman’s side. And, once that goes away, men will act as required. Also, family members and friends should give us the respect we deserve.

Here's wishing this braveheart more strength, love and positivity on this journey!

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