Sonali Bendre: Bollywood star’s cancer posts inspires India fans

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Sonali Bendre: Bollywood star's cancer posts inspires India fans

Image copyright Sonali Bendre's Instagram
Image caption Bollywood star Sonali Bendre has been documenting her cancer battle for months on social media

Bollywood actress Sonali Bendre has returned to India after undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of cancer in New York.

Social media users are full of praise for the 43-year-old actress, who has been candidly documenting her cancer journey for months.

The star's husband Goldie Behl told local media that she was "recovering" but would need regular check-ups.

Some cancer patients have said the star's openness has been "encouraging".

Renuka Prasad, a breast cancer survivor who works at the Indian Cancer Society, told the BBC that seeing celebrities open up about "taboo topics" like cancer is a "welcome change".

"Many patients don't always get to hear stories about the individuals behind the disease, so when they see people like Sonali Bendre celebrating life, it's very encouraging and motivating," she said. "It shows them that cancer doesn't have to be a death warrant – there is life after it and it can often be good."

A real life happy ending

Geeta Pandey, BBC News Delhi

When I first read about Sonali Bendre's cancer in July, I immediately thought of her role in the Bollywood superhit Kal Ho Na Ho.

There, Bendre plays friend, confidant and doctor to the hero, played by superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who is terminally ill.

The scenes in the film play out in New York city, where Bendre helps Khan deal with a weak heart that finally gives up in a dramatic finale.

Fifteen years after her guest appearance in the film, Bendre spent months in New York city, battling "high grade cancer".

Khan, her co-star in a number of films, was among the Bollywood celebrities who visited her in hospital.

On Monday morning, India woke up to the happy news that Bendre had beaten cancer. She arrived at Mumbai airport early in the morning, holding husband Goldie Behl's hands, grinning happily.

It's a fittingly happy ending.

Ms Prasad, who works with cancer patients, also added that "celebrities talking about such diseases is important because it bolsters awareness".

In a Twitter post on Sunday, Bendre said "the fight is not yet over", but that she was looking forward to being back home in Mumbai city.

Skip Twitter post by @iamsonalibendre

#OneDayAtATime #ImComingHome

— Sonali Bendre Behl (@iamsonalibendre) December 2, 2018


End of Twitter post by @iamsonalibendre

Her husband Mr Behl told reporters that "the disease can come back" even though the treatment has ended.

  • Irrfan Khan: Bollywood actor flooded with support after cancer letter
  • Bollywood challenges India's mental health taboo

After her diagnosis, Bendre took to Instagram with a post in which she said she "was determined to fight" the cancer and thanked her family and friends. She added that her "high-grade cancer" had metastised.

Fans flocked to the comments section, wishing her the best for a speedy recovery.

Instagram post by iamsonalibendre: Sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you a curveball. I have recently been diagnosed with a high grade cancer that has metastised, which we frankly did not see coming. A niggling pain led to some tests, which led to this unexpected diagnosis.  My family and close friends have rallied around me, providing the best support system that anyone can ask for.  I am very blessed and thankful for each of them.  There is no better way to tackle this, than to take swift and immediate action. And so, as advised by my doctors, I am currently undergoing a course of treatment in New York. We remain optimistic and I am determined to fight every step of the way. What has helped has been the immense outpouring of love and support I’ve received over the past few days, for which I am very grateful.  I’m taking this battle head on, knowing I have the strength of my family and friends behind me. Image Copyright iamsonalibendre iamsonalibendre Report

In another touching post that resonated with fans, she also opened up about what it was like to break the news of her illness to her 12-year-old son.

"As much as we wanted to protect him, we knew it was important to tell him the full facts […] He took the news so maturely…and instantly became a source of strength and positivity for me," she wrote on Instagram in July.

Instagram post by iamsonalibendre: From the moment he was born 12 years, 11 months and 8 days ago, my amazing @rockbehl took ownership of my heart.  From then on, his happiness and wellbeing have been the centre of anything @goldiebehl and I ever did. And so, when the Big C reared its ugly head, our biggest dilemma was what and how we were going to tell him.  As much as we wanted to protect him, we knew it was important to tell him the full facts. We’ve always been open and honest with him and this time it wasn’t going to be different. He took the news so maturely… and instantly became a source of strength and positivity for me. In some situations now, he even reverses roles and takes on being the parent, reminding me of things I need to do!  I believe that it’s imperative to keep kids involved in a situation like this. They are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. It’s important to spend time with them and include them, rather than make them wait on the side-lines, not being told yet instinctively knowing everything. In our effort to protect them from the pain and realities of life, we might end up doing the opposite.  I’m spending time with Ranveer right now, while he’s on summer vacation.  His madness and shenanigans help me #SwitchOnTheSunshine. And today, we derive strength from each other #OneDayAtATime Image Copyright iamsonalibendre iamsonalibendre Report

Her posts have garnered attention for capturing the various stages of living with the disease – a video montage about her decision to shave her head, a heartfelt note on having "bad days" and pushing through and some cheerful photos with close friends and family, among others.

Instagram post by iamsonalibendre: "Vanity is my favourite sin." - Al Pacino  Well, it might not be my all-time favourite sin (that would be gluttony ?), but who doesn't like looking good? The way we look has a profound psychological impact on us... A little vanity here and there does no one any harm.  It's important to do what makes you happy, even if it's something as simple as wearing a wig, bright red lipstick, high heels.... All that white noise doesn't make a difference in the larger picture. No one can tell you what's right or wrong for you. When I was testing out the wigs, I had a brief moment of self-doubt... "Am I vain for wanting to look good?" As part of the entertainment industry, you're always expected to look good... Maybe that has been ingrained in me? But then I gave it a thought and I realized I like looking good for me. If I'm in the mood to wear a scarf, I will. If I want to walk around bald and free, I will. Only you know what would make you feel good, and what works best for you.  So take every opportunity you can to #SwitchOnTheSunshine.  #OneDayAtATime ?? Thank you @priyankachopra for connecting me with the amazing @bokheehair, who created my new look. Image Copyright iamsonalibendre iamsonalibendre Report
Instagram post by iamsonalibendre: This is me. And in this moment, I am really happy. People give me strange looks when I say that now, but it's true and I'll tell you why. I am now paying attention to every moment, looking for every opportunity to find joy and #SwitchOnTheSunshine. Yes, there are moments of pain and low energy, but I am doing what I like, spending time with people I love, and feeling very loved and happy. I am extremely grateful to my friends, my pillars of strength, who at a moment's notice, arrived to be with me and help me through this. In between their busy schedules they find time to visit, call, message, FaceTime... basically never leaving a moment for me to feel alone. Thank you for showing me what true friendship is. #HappyFriendshipDay, ladies. Blessed to have you all in my life (including the ones not in the picture... You know who you are) @gayatrioberoi @suzkr  P.S. Nowadays I spend far less time getting ready because I don't have to fuss over my hair! ?#BaldIsBeautiful #FindThePositive #OneDayAtATime  Picture credit  @hrithikroshan Image Copyright iamsonalibendre iamsonalibendre Report

Bendre is not the first Indian celebrity to speak out about cancer. Cricketer Yuvraj Singh, who was diagnosed in 2012, was also very outspoken about his battle with the disease and even wrote a book about it.

Actor Irrfan Khan, who announced that he was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour earlier this year in an open letter, was flooded with messages of support from fans.

There have been other attempts by Bollywood celebrities to bring neglected topics into the mainstream. Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone has openly talked about her struggle with depression – and has often highlighted the importance of treating mental health in various media interviews.

In 2015, she started a foundation to change the negative narrative and stigma around mental health in the country.

Many commended Padukone's efforts since seeking medical help for psychological issues is still largely taboo in India. Mental illness is often equated with madness, and the country has a high suicide rate attributed to depression and anxiety.

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