Opinion | Private battles with public support using social media

Celebrities are sharing their fight against a dreaded disease rather than suffer in private

 (iStockphoto)
(iStockphoto)
Source: Livemint

Bollywood actor Nafisa Ali on Sunday posted a video on Instagram that shows her recovering from a cancer surgery. The actor and socialite, diagnosed with cancer last year, had earlier shared her post-chemotherapy pictures on Twitter. Surprisingly, Nafisa Ali isn’t the only Bollywood celebrity who has been regularly sharing her battle with cancer online.

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Amazing to hold my grandchildren in my arms .💕

A post shared by Nafisa Ali Sodhi (@nafisaalisodhi) on

Among the first ones to go online to talk about her disease openly was film star Sonali Bendre. She posted pictures and messages both on Twitter and Instagram. In her Twitter posts, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, author, filmmaker and wife of actor-singer Ayushmann Khurrana, said Sonali Bendre’s spirit to fight cancer inspired her own struggle with the disease. Khurrana, who was also diagnosed with cancer, has since been a regular on social media sharing candid pictures and health details. On World Cancer Day earlier this month, she posted a picture of her bare back showing a deep scar from her surgery. “These scars are my badges of honour. It was tough, but this picture was my decision, as I want to celebrate not the disease but the spirit with which I endured,” she said.

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“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” – Cheryl Strayed, Wild. Over the past couple of months, I have had good days and bad ones. There have been days when I’ve been so exhausted and in so much pain that even lifting a finger hurt. I feel like sometimes it’s a cycle… one that starts off with physical pain and leads to mental and emotional pain. The bad days have been many… Post chemo, post-surgery and the like… where even just laughing hurts. Sometimes it felt like it took everything I’ve had to push past it… a minute to minute battle with myself. I got through it knowing that even though I was fighting a long drawn out, draining battle… it was one that was worth the fight. It’s important to remember that we’re allowed to have those bad days. Forcing yourself to be happy and cheerful all the time serves no purpose. Who are we being fake and putting on an act for? I allowed myself to cry, to feel the pain, to indulge in self-pity… for a short while. Only you know what you’re going through and it is fine to accept it. Emotions aren’t wrong. Feeling negative emotions isn’t wrong. But after a point, identify it, recognize it and refuse to let it control your life. It takes an immense amount of self-care to get out of that zone. Sleep always helps, or having my favourite smoothie after chemo, or just talking to my son. For now, as my treatment continues… my visual focus remains to just get better and get back home. It’s yet another test… Student all my life… Learning all my life… #OneDayAtATime 📷: @srishtibehlarya

A post shared by Sonali Bendre (@iamsonalibendre) on

Clearly, this is a new breed of celebrities who have been using social media to reach out to their fans and people at large to share their spirited fight against a dreaded disease rather than suffer in private. They have been vocal, brave and very public about the journey of their illness.

This development reflects the increasingly important role that social media plays in our lives. For starters, with the explosion of smartphones and widespread internet access, social media has come to be the media that most of us consume the most. The smartphone screen has become our primary screen by far, the one that we go to most frequently, as well as spend the longest time on. “Social media now pervades a large part of our lives as we use it almost exclusively to communicate, converse, get our news, entertain ourselves, plan holidays, shop and transact,” says Samit Sinha, brand expert and managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, who uses social media to build brands for his clients.

Explaining why these celebrities may have used social media to share their private medical issues, Sinha says it gives them control over their image in the public domain, rather than their image being influenced by what is projected by others in the media. “They are able to establish a direct connection with their fans and use the connection to express themselves in their own way. It obviously fulfils some need, and the motives could range from a need for self-expression, catharsis, to inspire others or, for some, just for attention. Whatever be the case, it certainly helps them stay in the spotlight,” he says.

Senior consultant psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh says that celebrities are often looked upon as role models. How they think, behave, what they do or don’t do, could become a source of inspiration for other people. “Coming out and talking about a serious illness like cancer isn’t an easy decision. It takes a lot of courage and, when celebrities share their personal stories, it not only makes them look more human for their fans and other audiences, but also makes people view such an illness as a real problem that could happen to anybody.”

That is not all. Sharing on social media platforms, perhaps, helps in normalizing the feeling of helplessness associated with the disease, at least to some extent. It allows people to relinquish their fear of being judged or perceived as weak and vulnerable. “There is greater scope for learning on how to cope with the disease without feeling ashamed about it. It lets people feel in control of their life,” Chugh says. So, is social media being used to come to terms with a disease in full public view? “When we are fighting diseases, sometimes all we need, along with medical help, is emotional support, love, care and kindness. When people from all around the world wish you well, you get that extra bout of strength and motivation to fight it out. As you share your journey, you are creating a space for others also to learn, become more aware and discover various opportunities to seek help,” adds Chugh. However, it is a personal choice for people to make. How much to share and what they want to share is entirely their prerogative. While it may work for some, it may not for others. Some people are more private and they would like to limit their life from public eye by setting boundaries. “We need to treat both with equal respect,” he adds.



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