‘Cancer is not the end game’
As an actress, Gautami Tadimalla is well-known in Indian homes. Over four decades, Gautami has been in the limelight for powerful performances in films, her personal life choices and her battle with cancer. Seated in the lobby of Grand Hyatt Muscat last week, when she was a guest at Oman Cancer Association’s (OCA) charity fundraiser for World Cancer Day, Gautami looks every bit of the beautiful actress seen on the silver screen in a timeless way.
Invited by Dr Rajyashree, a board member of OCA, Gautami was here as a torchbearer - a strong voice and a stronger story. “Her fight with cancer is a well known story in the entertainment industry in India. Her foundation LifeAgainFoundation too is doing substantial work with this illness,” said Dr Rajyashree.
Gautami’s foundation looks at ‘eradicating cancer through prevention and support extended by a web of resources that transform education, agriculture and healthcare’.
During her brief stay in the sultanate, she met with charities, OCA members and school children from Indian School Wadi Kabir.
As she begins to talk, one begins to wonder - where are the scars of the battle she fought? That is when it dawns that she chooses to live life not as a survivor but as a winner. “The term ‘survivor’ is one that we really want to rebrand,” says Gautami about the word that has become synonymous with people who have had their tryst with cancer. “You don’t ‘survive’ cancer; you survive floods or natural calamities. Cancer - you win it.” In that sense, she prefers to call herself a winner and not let the ordeal of the illness define her.
Obviously, her story has changed and so has her perception of life and its challenges, which have defined her role as an ambassador to breathe hope into people who have begun their fight with cancer. “I’ve always been an opinionated person within the circles I’ve been in, the only change is that the circle has widened now,” she says.
As a celebrity who has turned into a crusader for a social cause, Gautami understands her standing and attributes this privilege to people’s love and affection. In that sense, when she uses this platform of privilege today, for her it is about spinning the wheels of change as a responsibility towards her fellow human beings.
“A lot of the times, it is about not walking away from the things you know you have to do… If you know you can make the effort to do one thing and yet do nothing about it, it’s about facing yourself .” This, she says, has been a driving force in her life. So as a celebrity today, she says, the ‘products’ she sells are deep-rooted in her convictions. “I endorse the fight against cancer, I endorse the fight for responsible living and I endorse the fight for personal empowerment. These are the products that I am selling today.”
Fifteen years since her own stint with cancer, Gautami says that narrating her experience to people is always coupled with an advice on a practical approach towards dealing with cancer. “You have to be practical when diagnosed with the illness rather than let fear take control. When people see me now, they see that my hair is growing strong, they tell me that I look good and seeing this three dimensional reality consoles them and gives them courage to face their own treatment.”
She believes now that after all these years and having gone through the painful treatment, she can empathise with people who are on the verge of undertaking this journey. “It has made it easier for me to go and talk to a person who is going through the same situation. When you are facing a situation in your life and someone comes to you and says ‘I know what you are going through because I myself have been there,’ it makes a whole lot of difference for the person.”
The physical aspect of the illness aside, Gautami also believes that the battle has to be fought on a mental plane. “Cancer is still seen as a stigma. Most cancers are treatable if detected in the early stages, while many are manageable even in late cases. Having cancer should not be taken as an endgame. This is the message we are looking to get out.”