SHE’S boisterous, bright-eyed and brimming with positivity. There’s no trace at all that Navi Indran Pillai is a cancer survivor, who is undergoing cancer treatments, on meeting her in person.
The cheery 29-year-old from Shah Alam is all smiles when she talks about her condition.
“It was 2013 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 22,” she says.
Pursuing her dreams came to an end since she had to go through surgeries as well as cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy and targeted therapy.
Although she battled the sickness for over a year and overcame it, a routine check-up last year led to her being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (stage four) which had spread to her liver and backbone.
Now she has to continue with some of the treatments for the rest of her life. Navi, as she is fondly known, also requires specialised drugs to help her live by suppressing the growth of the aggressive cancer cells.
GETTING BACK ON HER FEET
“Of course it was very hard,” she says about the emotional and physical impact.
“I was devastated as well when I saw both my parents looking lost at the time. But I always try to look at the brighter side of things.”
She adds: “We’re all human and we tend to break but it’s how we pick up the pieces. And when we pick ourselves up that’s when we realise it’s not so much about being broken but having the ability to move on and that process itself was the most important part for me.”
Navi says that everyday is a victory and a progress in life no matter how small.
“I want to see my parents smile again. That was my realisation that gave me the determination to push through to see them smile again,” she says.
The master’s degree holder in project management says that she receives solid support from her mother Shamala, father Indran Pillai and elder sister Dena, as well as her relatives and best friends.
But there’s also another aspect that keeps her strong, which is through the social media platform.
Navi started documenting her journey online and wanted people to look at cancer in a more positive manner so she has created the hashtag ‘kissed by cancer’ as a way to achieve that (follow her on Instagram @Naviindrapillai).
She says that it was for people, especially the young adults, to use her platform to help cope with cancer through their sharing.
“And through this I also received lots of support and encouragement from people which is great,” says Navi, who currently works at the National Cancer Society of Malaysia as a volunteer coordinator.
A SHOW OF COURAGE
In her effort to lessen her parents burden financially, the plucky cancer survivor has decided to take a proactive approach by tapping into her passion for dance.
She will be performing live in her solo debut Bharatanatyam dance show tomorrow at the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur. The fundraising show is titled Dhanvantrim Nruthyam — Kissed By Cancer.
Navi received treatment every three weeks and it costs RM15,000 each time. She says that while her medical bills are being covered by her insurance company, the money available is depleting. Her parents have been supporting her as well for her treatments and the specialised drugs she needs are not available in government hospitals.
“I want to make it clear that I have no choice but to go through the private health sector in order to get the drugs I need. If I was able to get them from the government hospitals, I would,” she says.
“I’m doing what I can to help myself and this show is a part of that.”
Navi was exposed to classical Indian dance since she was 2 years old and started dancing at age 6 at the Temple of Fine Arts under the tutelage of Shrimathi Latha. In 2004, she then joined Laasya Arts Academy under Guruvayur Usha Dorai and completed her Arangetram (dance graduation) in 2008.
“After I was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, I stopped dancing due to the cancer treatments and its side-effects.”
She decided to get back to dancing and show the world that despite being a cancer survivor undergoing cancer treatments with all the side effects, she was still pursuing her passion.
“I have a strong love for Indian classical music and dance. I listened to Carnatic music during my chemo sessions and it really helped me to get through the tough times.”
“It was an important aspect when I was healing so doing what you love is also key to being happy and I feel grateful to have this aspect aside from modern medicine,” she says.
Bharatanatyam is an intense dance form and Navi says that she has been practising tirelessly since she got back into dancing early this year.
“Dance has always been my love and passion and I decided to collaborate with my teacher, Guruvayur Usha Dorai, the principle and founder of Laasya Arts Academy to guide me in the choreography.
“The show will also feature a group of musicians doing an opening music recital of Carnatic Indian music besides accompanying my movements.”
She adds enthusiastically that “the message from the show is that dance is my healer, it heals me and the choreography will reflect that. It also shows how grateful I am to the audience for making this event possible.”
The upcoming dance show, organised and supported by the National Cancer Society of Malaysia, the Laasya Arts Academy and Mojo Projects, will have a roughly 150-minute long duration.
Navi says that she wants to make use of her time to encourage people and spread positivity.
“There’s so many things I want to do. This dance show is just one step in what will hopefully lead to a series of other events where I can engage with people to share our experiences in a two-way conversation.”
Whether it’s teaching dance, having an art theraphy session or holding talks, Navi is game for it.
“I’m a strong believer in human empowerment. Right now I’m working with my friends to come up with a support group for those suffering from depression. I think everyone is battling this regardless if you have an illness or not. Mental health is key to your quality of life,” she says.
“It’s an ongoing process, not an overnight solution that will take some time but it will not stop me despite how things can sometimes get quite overwhelming.”
“I want this to be a part of many other things and events that I want to do in the future.”
Looking resplendent and ready to take on the world, she says: “Cancer is a mere moment and is not life itself.”
Dhanvantrim Nruthyam — Kissed By Cancer by Navi Indran Pillai
When: Saturday, 6pm
Where: Shantanand Auditorium, Temple Of Fine Arts, No. 114, 116, Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, KL
Tickets: Visit www.airasiaredtix.com. For donations or queries, WhatsApp +6019-221 9314.