Confession time. I wouldn’t usually be reading a book written by a cancer survivor, let alone review it, even if someone put a gun on my head. The difference here is that I know Shormistha Mukherjee very well, and that made me buy a copy of her recently published Cancer, You Picked The Wrong Girl (Harper Collins) and read it.
Besides being a founder of a successful Mumbai-based digital agency and popular blogger under the moniker of AgentGreenGlass, Mukherjee is a single-person carnival as she walks in for a client meeting. She will flash a million-watt smile and talk to you with the kind of affection that can disarm you immediately. Before you know it, she has cast a spell on you, the meeting is over, and you are convinced that whatever she was pitching was suitable for your company. She is good at her work, and now that I have read the book, I think she is in the wrong profession. Trust me, she can write.
There is no reinventing the wheel here. The format is perilously close to being listed as another cancer diary but, fortunately, escapes the genre. The chapters leading to the diagnosis are grippy and you don’t want to put the book down. But then comes the surgery and the chemo sessions’ part that you want to end fast. Well, you know that she will get over the trauma, but why take us through the graphic details? That is where the reflections and introspection come in, laced with superstitions, and she bares her mind without inhibitions, and you continue to read her account, and almost feel like a voyeur.
Humour comes naturally to Mukherjee, but it can be amusing to the readers who do not know her. Her obsession with the ‘boob drawings’ by various doctors is a classic example. But that does not mean I will call it a funny book. Not when you are subjected to that sinking feeling once every 10 pages or so.
The ‘haves and have nots’ divide omnipresent in our country is dealt with in a manner that leaves you feeling guilty. Well, almost. The serpentine queues of horror with its tentacles stretching onto the pavements outside the Tata Memorial Hospital versus the coolness of having a Starbucks outlet in the reception of Kokilaben Hospital paints an unreal picture. But it isn’t fiction; it’s as real as it gets, I have personally seen them. One important takeaway is to have ‘proper’ insurance since that can make ‘the’ big difference to the ordeal. She also warns how important it is to share information; information like cancer history in one’s family.
There are the expected characters — husband, friends, doctors, and parents, all of whom go through the emotional roller coaster in varying degrees of difficulty. What caught my attention is the human tendency to clutch on to anything that can give you comfort — alternate healers, for example. While some of them played significant roles, some are stunningly funny.
Now that I’ve read this book, one thing is sure. I will never ask a cancer patient, “How are you feeling?” After reading the book, I lent it to a breast cancer surgeon friend of mine, and two weeks later asked her what she thought of it. She said it is just one perspective, and as a doctor, she gets to see the disease in multiple dimensions.
Most men will not want to know about breast cancer. But when you read this book, you realise how tough it is on the person and those helping them deal with it. I won’t go to the extent of saying that reading this book will change you as a person, but it is an exceptional opportunity to wander into a beautiful mind.
As Mukherjee puts it, “I want more men to read it.”