Driving home in her father’s Ambassador after a theatre dress rehearsal in Bangalore, Dilshad Master, then only 24, was hit by a speeding bus. This was the first time she was admitted to a hospital. “I have had three major accidents, countless surgeries and two tumours, one of which turned out to be cancerous,” says Master. Despite the odds, Master has never given up. She has spent 22 years working in the television industry, serving as chief operating officer at UTV Entertainment and senior vice president at National Geographic. She has also started her own digital company and travel blog and recently completed a trek to the Everest base camp. “I remember the first time that I was hospitalised. The entire right side of my body was bruised and bleeding and I was barely in my senses. I had turned to my father then and asked him why this was happening to me? And he said, ‘Darling, why not you? What is so special about you?’ I have never forgotten his words,” says Master, who currently lives in Delhi with her husband of 17 years and three-year-old daughter, Saira. Saira was only nine months old when Master was diagnosed with stage one carcinoma (breast cancer) in 2012.
“I had been aware of a lump in my breast for nearly eight months but I kept on trying to ignore it. I think that unknown to myself, I was afraid to know the truth. Finally a friend scheduled me for a mammography which was negative but an ultrasound later revealed that there was indeed a lump and it could be cancerous,” she says. Master then went for a fine-needle aspiration biopsy to Apollo Hospital in Delhi. Thinking back to the exact moment she found out she had cancer she says, “I was all alone. And I could not understand a word on the report except for the fact that it was positive. It was at that moment that I just knew that there was no option but to overcome the disease. I had a baby and a family and I just decided then and there that I would keep on going.”
And then it got worse. “The first surgery did not go well at all and was left partially incomplete. But God has a way of sending his angels and I was referred to a brilliant doctor at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai who completed the surgery,” explains Master.
“I think it’s important to not stereotype the disease and make it all the more difficult for patients. For women in particular, the stigma of being bald needs to be dealt with. The most beautiful thing a woman can ever wear is self-reliance and confidence,” she adds. Master was recently felicitated at the India Today Woman-Dabur India Brave and Beautiful event, a campaign that aims to spread awareness about cancer.
But despite her determination to never give up, cancer did eventually leave its mark on Master. “I was just exhausted at the end of all the radiotherapy sessions, surgeries and hospital visits. I found that I no longer wanted to go back to a corporate set-up and put in 16 to 20 hours of work a day. If there was anything that cancer taught me it was to really embrace life and the time you have left,” she says.
Today Master no longer works in the television industry and spends most of her time pursuing her second love: travel and adventure trekking. She is now working as the director of operations and business development at her husband’s firm, Mercury Himalayan Explorations (MHE). “MHE has been around for the last 30 years. I have always had a thirst for adventure so it was a natural choice for me to start working with them,” says Master, who is getting ready for a trek to the Great Lakes in Kashmir this summer. “You know what, no matter what you do, your body will give up at some point or the other. It is then that the mind will take over,” she concludes.
(This article first appeared in India Today Woman.)