Life doesn't stop just because of cancer, reflects motivational Meera Shah

Life doesn't stop just because of cancer, reflects motivational Meera Shah

Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Meera Shah as part of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.

Meera Shah is a wife, mother and trained dentist. She works as a Dental Education Advisor for Health Education England. Meera had a blood cancer diagnosis at the age of 33 years and then a relapse seven years later. She was treated with a stem cell transplant and is now on long-term maintenance chemotherapy. It drew her to get involved with the charity Shine Cancer Support, since its inception, which supports other young adults who have had a cancer diagnosis. She has delivered professional lectures to healthcare professionals on how to support their cancer patients and shares her cancer journey on Instagram.

You have been open about your health journey whereas so many people don’t talk openly about such issues. What prompted you to share your story with others?

When I was first diagnosed, I was a new mum with a six-month-old. I was just about getting used to life as a mum, and then all of a sudden I had to deal with the psychological fallout of what a cancer diagnosis meant for our family's future, as well as the practicalities of having daily treatment whilst on maternity leave.

At the time I only knew of one other young person who had been through cancer treatment with a child (although slightly older). I felt so alone with my thoughts. As much as I'm grateful for how supportive our friends and family were, and still are, it was hard for me to articulate my fears to them, and when I did, it was just as hard for them to empathise. This was all new for them, and they had their own emotions to process through it all.

I wanted to know that other young parents had been through it and had come out of the other end. I wanted someone to metaphorically hold my hand and say what I would say to them today: that yes, this will be one of the most difficult challenges they deal with whilst raising a child, that there will be some awful moments, days where they can't care for their child, but that it will pass, they will deal with it one way or another, and that there is support available from those who understand, whatever the outcome.

I also wanted tips on how to protect my son through all this, if that was even possible, as well as support for my husband, who through both of my treatments was primary carer to us both, whilst juggling life.

By sharing my story, and being part of a supportive cancer community, is my way of helping others.

What are the important lessons you have learnt throughout your journey?

I know now that I am stronger than I could ever have imagined, but that I could not have gone through this alone. There is no shame in asking for help or being clear in the type of support that you need, whether it's a change to your treatment regime by the professionals to combat side effects, psychological help to support mental health, the school to ensure your child is supported, some childcare help so you can rest, a chat with your employer to find a more conducive way of working whilst on treatment, a home cooked meal or a chat with a someone who will lift you up on the more difficult days, or a night out with friends so you can feel normal for a while.

Prior to my stem cell transplant, I felt it was important to mentally prepare myself and the family for the isolation and separation we were about to embark upon. Once I was home, we were strict about having no visitors until my immune system was stronger. Little did I know this would give us the resilience to deal with isolation of shielding during this current pandemic.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself, and to loved ones, who are living this life with you too. Find a way to live your best life through all this. It's taken many years but being at peace with my diagnosis and future has helped me move on with life on a new trajectory. Life doesn't stop just because of cancer.

If you could go back and give your teenage self one bit of advice, what would it be?

Work hard, play hard, eat your greens, laugh even more but most importantly don't be so hard on yourself. If things don't turn out as planned, there is always something you can do about it. Find another way around and you may be surprised that there is another solution to the problem.

Surround yourself by those who will lift you up and help grow you further. Never give up on trying to be a better version of yourself. I still tell myself this as an adult.

What has been a low that has been your teacher?

Day 10 following my stem cell transplant. My immune system had reached zero that day and I was at my most vulnerable. I couldn't get out of bed and I barely had the energy to speak or open my eyes. I knew this day would come and had prepared for this. I kept reminding myself that I just had to be patient and in my mother's words 'this too will pass'.

I had faith in my medical team and my body to keep me safe. I put my blinkers on and believed that things could only get better from here on. Every time I have a new challenge with my health, or life in general, I remind myself that I have the strength and the will to get through it – if not for me, then, for my not so little boy.

Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive multi-media “In Conversation” series for ‘iGlobal’, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist will be catching up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons.

*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.

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