Kreena Dhiman kept her breast cancer hidden when she was first diagnosed aged 33. She talks about tackling the taboo around cancer in Indian culture, and embracing her new self.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2013, my doctors hoped I wouldn’t have to have chemotherapy. But when I had a mastectomy, they found the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.
I’d been strong during my diagnosis, but the moment I knew I had to have chemotherapy – that was when I cried.
I was afraid of what the treatment would bring, especially the hair loss. I didn’t want anyone to know I had cancer; having chemotherapy would change that. I’m Indian, and in my culture people don’t speak about cancer, so I was scared to reveal it. So I spent the first few months of treatment indoors, not telling many people what I’d been through. When I did go out, it was under the safety of my wig.
Then in February of 2014, I was asked to take part in a charity campaign. This turned my entire journey around. I went from hiding my illness to literally being on billboards, shouting about how breast cancer can affect younger women from the rooftops.
Meeting women in the same situation made me feel less isolated
When I started chemotherapy, I didn’t really know anyone in the same boat as me. I attended one of Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together events in Manchester. I was looking for a few answers to my questions, but most of all wanted to make contact with other women in my situation.
I made some really good friends that weekend, and still speak to a couple of them today. It was also a good opportunity to get information that you might not be able to absorb when you’re diagnosed.
My priority is to live life to its fullest
I don’t live to earn money, I live for experiences. If I can’t find someone to join me with something, I’ll do it alone. I wouldn’t have done this before I had breast cancer!
I’m extremely proud of my body. It may be scarred, and I now have fake breasts, but that’s who I am. Looking at my scars reminds me of how far I have come, and also that I’m blessed to have had access to such fantastic care, love and support.
My relationships with loved ones are stronger than ever. I don’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks of me. I meditate, read books that uplift the soul, and have even written a book to record the lessons that this journey has taught me.
I’m a better person since having cancer
I don’t regret having breast cancer - it’s part of who I am today. And that’s a better person than I was before.
As a model in The Show, I want anyone newly diagnosed with breast cancer, who’s just starting out, to see that it does get better. Your hair will come back, and while you may look different at the end of it, different can be great.
I want to break the taboo of cancer in Indian culture
I’m very conscious that within Indian culture cancer is still hidden from the outside world. It’s perceived as something to be ashamed off. I want to do anything I can to break the taboo.
I want to encourage people from ethnic minorities to support one another more, so that when you attend a seminar or a conference, there are other Asian faces in the room. We need to be there together to show one another that we understand the cultural oddities a diagnosis can bring.
I won’t hide anymore
This disease doesn’t choose whose door it lands at, and nobody should feel they have to hide it or that they did something wrong. I’m Indian, I’m young, but hey – it happened to me. I won’t hide that from anyone.
Watch Kreena on the catwalk at the Breast Cancer Care Show, and support others affected by breast cancer.