After treatment, Bunshri felt consumed by cancer. She reflects on what helped her move forward, from laughter therapy to picking up her camera again.
I noticed a change in my left breast
In 2006, I noticed an area of my left breast that felt harder than normal. I have a friend who's a doctor, and she referred me on for a mammogram. Within a week, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, and radiotherapy for about six weeks. I was on tamoxifen for five years.
I didn’t know what to expect
After I was diagnosed, my first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die,’ because when I was 11, my grandmother was treated for breast cancer but died six months later of stomach cancer. At that time, I didn’t know much about cancer.
My diagnosis was the first time I’d seen my husband cry too. We didn’t know what to expect.
From experience, I had an inkling that if I wanted to heal, I ought to share my feelings with everyone to allow their love in. So I emailed close family and friends to let them know about my diagnosis. People would phone and ask how I was doing. I noticed I kept telling people I was fine.
I felt consumed by cancer
I told my friend that everyone was being so nice, but even so I felt completely drained. She told me that it was normal as I’d been through surgery and was trying too hard to make others feel OK about my situation. I then realised I was hiding how I truly felt.
For about a year, I felt consumed by my cancer. When I’d go for a walk, I’d wonder if people passing by had cancer too. I kept thinking ‘What if I get secondary breast cancer?’ and ‘Why am I so tired all the time?’ Cancer was always on my mind.
I tried to find the right support for me
After my treatment, at times I would feel lonely in a room full of people, so finding support was important. I asked for help from family and friends, and pursued things I’d always wanted to do before breast cancer, because the ‘right now’ became important. Here are some things that helped me heal.
1. I found a support group
My aunt, who’d been through cancer, told me about an Asian women’s cancer support group in Harrow. I was inspired by all the women I met there. I valued belonging to a community where they understood what I was going through, physically and emotionally.
2. I learnt to laugh more
My support group arranged laughter therapy sessions, which involved laughing for the sake of laughing! This made me feel good, as laughter helps relieve stress. Laughter therapy taught me to see a sense of humour in everything I now do. I’ve started watching comedy programmes too. I really like Michael McIntyre.
Learning to laugh more, and being with people who can take things light-heartedly, has become so important to me. I used to worry about different things, such as how my house might look for guests, but it’s the love and warmth in your home that’s more important.
3. I went into 10 days of silence
A friend told me about Vipassana, where you go into 10 days of silence. I tried this with my husband. He looked 10 years younger afterwards! They teach you how to meditate, you don’t exchange gestures with others, and there’s no television or books, so you're encouraged to be mindful. I don’t think I spoke at all besides letting out a swear word once when I’d overslept!
4. I tried mindfulness
I completed mindfulness sessions through Breast Cancer Haven. I found their guided mindfulness CD useful. I feel that when you’re mindful, you're taking time out for yourself, and that can revive you for the next few hours. Mindfulness taught me to notice things like the birds singing, and the trees swaying.
5. I rediscovered photography
My friend who's a doctor encouraged me to pick up my camera again and, to my surprise, from loving black and white photography I was drawn to shoot in colour. I started to photograph blurred movement, because to me that related to life. I also photographed Asian women for Macmillan Cancer Support and helped create a book for the charity. I find photography very meditative.
6. I’m studying something new
Currently, I’m training to be a filmmaker. Doing something different really excites me, and puts me into a creative zone, rather than a worrying zone. It can be difficult to balance studies when you’ve got children and grandchildren, but I insist on doing things for myself because if I practise self-care, I can give more to others.
7. I learnt to say no
I was such a people pleaser, so I had to learn to say no and make time for myself. Now, I’ll weigh up things before I reach out to others. I value meeting someone one-to-one so I can have deep, meaningful conversations with them.
8. I modelled on the catwalk
In 2014, I modelled on the catwalk for Breast Cancer Care’s fashion show. I just felt so good and well taken care of! I met so many people who’d all been through breast cancer and walking with our heads high felt very special.
9. I gave something back
I’ve held fundraisers for different cancer charities. I’ve organised Bollywood workshops and have also skydived to raise money. Helping others helped me to forget about myself for a while.
10. I practise acceptance
After my diagnosis, I’ve learnt to let things go. Instead of retaliating to words, I’ll tell myself the other person might be going through something difficult. Or, if I’m feeling ill and have fears about cancer returning, I’ll allow myself to do a small amount of worrying but leave the main worrying to the expert – my doctor.
Life isn’t a rehearsal
Bunshri learnt to cycle at age 63, something that was on her to-do list since her diagnosis.
After treatment, I realised life isn’t a rehearsal. I wanted to embrace it and do things for me. Through the different things I’ve tried, what I love the most is being around people who make me laugh. I also look towards mindfulness and creativity for self-care. For others, it could be something entirely different. You might enjoy cooking, dancing or learning a musical instrument: simply following your passions. I feel that reaching out to others can aid you in seeking the right path to help you heal.
For more hints and tips on adjusting to life after active treatment ends, download our BECCA app: