Cancer came to me as a hurricane unannounced: Manisha Koirala

I was very impressed with Brad Pitt for standing by Angelina Jolie, says actress.

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American Bazaar Exclusive

By Niharika Mookerjee

NEW YORK: There has always been something haunting about Manisha Koirala’s performance that has kept us spellbound in movie after movie for decades.

A June 2012 file photo of Manisha Koirala at the DC South Asian Film Festival in suburban Washington, DC. Photo by Bala Chandran.

If cinema is a cascade of images, she weaves its golden reams. Whether it is in the effervescent musical Khamoshi or the intensely pensive role of the femme fatale in Dil Se, she has spun an intoxicating spell of mystique and a lure of evanescent beauty fleeting through an emblazoned landscape, rich with meaning.

In Bombay, she is a sylph, cloaked in black and cobalt-blue, running down the sweeping shoreline of the azure Arabian Sea, while in 1942: A Love Story, she is the elusive face of dewy-eyed innocence in the midst of a ravaged town, caught in the orange flares of a stormy revolution.

Even in an electrifying number such as Humma Humma or a wistful recital in Yeh Dil Sun Raha Hai,  her chiseled style is at once joyous and somber, a mark of her exquisite distinction.

A consummate actress that she is, her later performances marked the transition into the starker world of unsurpassed greed, corruption, and cruelty in critically-acclaimed movies like Company and Escape from Taliban.

And so, in November 2012, it was with a saddened heart that we received the news of her suffering from ovarian cancer.

She could have chosen to remain guarded about her sickness, as most celebrities are wont to do, but instead with the same touching vulnerability, strength, and fervor as in her acting, she reached out to her fans and friends on Facebook and Twitter with updates of her struggle, using poetry, inspirational words, and reminisces.

After months long treatment at the Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, she announced that she is now finally “out of the big trouble,” but aspires to use her celebrity status and personal anecdotes to move and inspire other people who are similarly struggling with life’s isolating battles.

“All I want to do from now onwards is to be useful to people who could need little advice. My family and I had no clue how to cope or deal with cancer and its treatments, but since I was a celebrity, people reached out with lot of information. I chose the ones from ex-cancer patients as I knew only they and their caregivers know what it is like to be affected by cancer,” Koirala said in an exclusive interview to The American Bazaar where she spoke candidly about her faith in divine providence and love of her family and fans that helped her rise above the ordeal.

Emerging from one of her life’s biggest challenges, she can now rejoice, Aaj main upar!

Excerpts from the interview with Manisha Koirala:

What is your opinion about preventive mastectomy or hysterectomy for women who have been tested positive for the BRCA1 and 2 gene? As a precedent set by Angelina Jolie, who recently went through an extensive mastectomy, what would be the pros and cons of the situation and the effects on women?

If by doing gene testing one can predict inherited diseases and seek a correction/pre-emptive procedures, yes, we must make use of the advancements in medical science for a healthier life.

Women must not feel less feminine by removing breasts or ovaries. It is not in the body and its organs but in our heart and soul that femininity lives. And I was very impressed with Brad Pitt for standing by Angelina through this crucial phase.

It is important for a partner to be supportive. This separates the men from the boys. There is no need to live under the shadow of fear and one should aspire for quality of life. There is just no question of pros and cons when it’s a matter of peaceful, healthy life.

Do you think that, apart from genetic disposition to cancer, lifestyle also plays a key role? What amendments would you suggest in maintaining good health?

Cancer came to me as a hurricane unannounced, but then most of the cases are like that. We live unthinkingly about our health until we are pushed to a corner. I am not 100 percent sure if cancer is easily predictable; I was told that “perhaps the estrogen doses that I got some years ago might have triggered cancer in me”, but there is not enough evidence, data to support or deny this. So I am left to wonder. Maybe someday, we will know for sure.

In the meantime, one must make do with all the obvious information one has. That would mean eating healthy, exercising, staying stress free. I intend to have more of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans.

I think each one of us is made differently; one must listen to our instincts of body and mind. Alternative treatments must be good too but I have little idea, but I believe in a holistic life.

In the western world there is a tendency to aggressively deal with tumors, sometimes not even fatal, which has led to harmful effects. There is increased screening and mammograms with false positives. Exposure to CT scans also have a damaging effect on health. What is your take on this issue?

I can only wish that everyone pays attention to the body, get regular checkups and get active, especially, if there has been history of cancer in the family.

There is not enough information regarding ovarian cancer and, neither did I have any clue nor the doctors I consulted.

Initially it was thought to be just food poisoning. Till I got CT scan done. So, basically, I could have been warned four months earlier than I was. We need to speak up, spread the awareness and help people get early diagnosis.

How did you cope with your diagnosis and the mental/physical hazards with chemotherapy? The treatment sometimes is worse than the disease, but I think over the years there has been many welcoming changes. Tell us about your experience.

I did fairly well thanks to the love and care of my family and friends, fans the world over and the divine. I can’t claim ownership over any of that.

I, myself, was caught by surprise when nurses and doctors told me that I did a good job of coping, considering the very strong treatment. I know it was not me but the prayers and blessing of all these people worked, along with the expertise of my doctors here at Sloan Kettering, New York. I am grateful to my wonderful surgeon and oncologist.

By the way, I do believe if one is left with no better option, one has to put all the effort forward and then surrender to the divine. My chemo treatment went well. If one can learn to handle fear, it is easier!

How has this treatment changed you as a person, and will it have any effect on your career?

I intend to live a healthier and more peaceful life. I am sure my career will be better too. Yes, I am more focused on the quality of life, more appreciative and mindful of health, my surroundings and the energy of the people around me.

What suggestions do you have for family members who are caregivers to their loved one suffering from cancer? Not everybody is sympathetic or as supportive because of the enormous costs and emotional burden, so I was wondering whether you have a message for them?

It’s hugely important to get emotional support. I can’t even imagine how I would do without my family who stuck by me every moment through all this. I hope and pray that every soul gets such a blessing.

Cancer is more about the fear factor than anything else, it’s necessary to consult and reach out. It is a harrowing experience for caregivers too but friendships and family-bonding get strengthened in adversity. It gets easy when one knows one is loved and is taken care of. Time now to play it forward.

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  1. Pingback: 6th DC South Asian Film Festival to kick off September 8

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