Kolkata’s theatre personality survives cancer, says conquer one milestone at a time

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Kolkata: Tathagata Chowdhury is a multifaceted personality; he is an actor, director, theatre producer, screenplay artist and workshop instructor. He is also the founder of the distinguished Kolkata-based English-language theatre group – Theatrecian, a prominent face in the cultural circuit of the country and a practicing advocate at the Calcutta High Court.

In this exclusive interview to eNewsroom, 38-year-old Tathagata – for the very first time – shares his recent ordeal of battling and surviving cancer – a testicular one.

eNewsroom: We realise that it is not easy to re-visit the ordeal, but thank you Tathagata for agreeing to give us this exclusive interview…

Tathagata: (Smiles). Thank you for taking interest in my ordeal. It was an uphill battle, alright. Life is strange, you know. One keeps hearing about people suffering from cancer. You read articles or hear about survival stories. But I had never imagined that I will be one of souls – suffering; surviving and then speaking about it.

eNewsroom: But this is good. You are going to fill people with hope, you know.

Tathagata: I certainly hope so.

eNewsroom: The form of cancer that you suffered from is called seminoma carcinoma, right?

Tathagata: That’s right.  A seminoma is a germ cell tumour of the testical. It is a malignant neoplasm but it is one of the most treatable and curable forms of cancer, only if it is discovered in the early stages. This form of cancer is common amongst Australians and Americans and there is only one per cent chance of Asians getting it. I had to be part of that one percent – pretty dramatic, huh?

As you can fathom, nothing in life can prepare you for this. I have a whole list of dreams that I want to fulfill. I want to continue participating in marathons, but this news threatened to ruin it all. I was also concerned about leading a healthy life and fulfilling my biological needs. The doctor had advised me to opt for sperm banking, but since I am not interested in going the family way, I did not.

eNewsroom: When was it diagnosed?

Tathagata: On December 12, 2018, I discovered a lump on my testicle. There was no pain, but I decided to consult my general physician – Dr. Guha – first. He advised me to get an ultrasonography done. The reports confirmed his worst fear. The lump was diagnosed as seminoma carcinoma and the lymph nodes had already started to spread to my heart, lungs and liver.

eNewsroom: What happened next?

Tathagata: When I was born, my testicles had not descended and I had to undergo a surgery for that. I think I was four; five or at the most six years of age. Dr. Subir Chatterjee had operated upon me back then. When the testicular cancer was confirmed, my general physician who was aware of this operation asked me to consult Dr. Subir Chatterjee once again. He is now 94 years old and when he heard about my condition, he asked me to go for surgery. He also informed me that it has now been discovered that the testicular correctional surgery that was done all those years ago, often leads to seminoma carcinoma. Of course, it does not affect everyone, but it made its presence felt in my body.

eNewsroom: What were your first thoughts when you heard about it?

Tathagata: You know, I have never spoken about this before, but I have faced a lot of personal problems in my life from a very young age. I have absorbed so many shocks that sometimes I feel that I have turned into a high-calibre shock absorber. So, when I learnt about the cancer, the first person that I thought of was my mother. She has already faced much travail in her life. I did not want her to suffer further. I wanted to fight this disease for her.

As you can fathom, nothing in life can prepare you for this. I have a whole list of dreams that I want to fulfill. I want to continue participating in marathons, but this news threatened to ruin it all. I was also concerned about leading a healthy life and fulfilling my biological needs. The doctor had advised me to opt for sperm banking, but since I am not interested in going the family way, I did not.

marathon kolkata theatre cancer survivour seminoma theatrecian
Tathagata Chowdhury preparing for a role (file picture)

eNewsroom: Dr. Kalyan Sarkar, who is one of the country’s leading neurologists and surgeons performed the surgery?

Tathagata: That’s right. Dr. Sarkar did the operation. Dr. Subir Chatterjee was also consulted. I have full faith in God and in Jesus Christ. I went for the surgery armed with that faith and knowing that “They” will be watching over me.

eNewsroom: The operation was successful, but you had to undergo chemotherapy treatment after that.

Tathagata: Yes and the real ordeal started then, between February-May 2019, I visited the hospital days for 21 days of chemotherapy. The cycle involved five days of chemotherapy and 15 days break. Each chemotherapy session lasted for eight hours. It was painful and I could not eat for days. It was like being in a battle where my psychological, physical and emotional states were at war with each other. I could not eat anything. I remember after the conclusion of one such round of chemotherapy, I could not eat any solid food for three days. I could only drink water and that too just one drop of it.

eNewsroom: What is your condition at present?

Tathagata: The spread has been arrested for the time being but I need to go for regular medical check-ups. I have to keep visiting Dr. Deepak Dabkara at Tata Medical Center, Kolkata and undergo tests after every two-three months. I have been told that it can again raise its head after a span of three-four years. I need to be on my guard. My school friend Dr. Gunjan Baijal who is now a leading oncologist had asked me not to consume alcohol for three-four months. I do not consume alcohol anyway, so that is not a problem for me. Chitra Ma’am, Superintendent, Nursing Department, Tata Medical Center, Kolkata had advised me to avoid red meat. My doctor has asked me to lead a normal life, but I should not over-exert myself. Yes! Everything seems to be back on track on the surface, but I suffer from this constant tingling sensation on my hands and feet and sometimes it gets difficult to walk, but I do not let this weigh me down.

eNewsroom: What are your plans?

Tathagata: An experience like this truly shakes you up. You think you have so much time in hand and then one fine day you get a wake-up call. There’s so much on my itinerary right now. I want to act; write; share my story with the world, direct, produce a few international shows, make films, reach out to a larger audience and also go on a date with Katrina Kaif. (Smiles). It is a long list, but I am ready, steady and raring to go. I have started training for my marathons and also getting back to my first love – theatre.

eNewsroom: And what about participating in marathons?

Tathagata: Marathons makes me feel alive. I have been running in the Kolkata-Delhi circuit. So far, I have completed 18 half marathons (21 kilometres) and three full marathons (42 kilometres) The medal, the certificate that I get after its completion inspires me and gives me amazing sense of satisfaction. Marathons are not about how many kilometres you have left; it is about how much closer you are to your destination. When you run a half marathon, you do not think that I have covered just one kilometre, you motivate yourself by thinking that I am 20 kilometres nearer/ closer to your destination. It teaches me to conquer each milestone at a time. That is how life is all about, isn’t it? It throws challenges at you and you conquer each challenge at a time. Battling and surviving cancer was one such milestone.

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