This Is How Megha's Sashakt Is Drawing Women's Attention To Ovarian Cancer
A 32 year-old-woman who is a BTech in Computer Science and Engineering and an M.B.A. in HR is doing some very 'hatkey work' utilising her education which is actually very different from what she had learnt over the years. Why? Because she doesn't want others to suffer the way her mother did due to lack of awareness.
How many of us think like that? So today I take you to meet the very inspiring Megha Ahuja, the Founder of Sashakt - The Ovarian Cancer Foundation.
"Mahima, Sashakt is not just a mission, it is actually a response to appalling lack of awareness and an apparent dearth of organizations working for Ovarian Cancer awareness in India. We are a non-profit organization with the sole aim to make every woman in India Sashakt (empowered) with knowledge and support to diagnose and fight the battle of ovarian cancer. Sashakt was found in October 2018."
And there are startling statistics that Megha provides, as well as personal, moving story behind Sashakt.
"Do you know, Ovarian Cancer is one of the most fatal cancers in women?" Megha asks me, and I am left shocked as I wasn't aware of it.
"One in 72 women are diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in their lifetime. My mother is fighting the battle right now. And while I was researching for her, I found out that while some awareness exists for breast and cervical cancer, the level of awareness about Ovarian Cancer is absolutely zero because of which it is diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 in 85% of cases when the prognosis is really poor. The only way of early detection is the awareness about the symptoms that are really subtle. If I had known the symptoms a year back, my mom would have been much better today. Even though I can’t change my reality, but if through Sashakt, I am able to save even a single life, all the efforts would be worthwhile.”
She gives me the following list of alerts that women must practice:
- If anyone experiences these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, they should visit a gynaecologist without any delay.
- Ovarian Cancer Symptoms are frequent- they usually happen more than 12 times a month, persistent. So it’s very important that we listen to our bodies and don’t keep self-medicating for these symptoms until it’s too late.
- There is no early diagnostic test. Pap Smear only detects Cervical Cancer. Recognizing the symptoms is the best opportunity for early detection.
- Ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older. In 80% of cases, it is diagnosed at Stage 3 or Stage 4.
- If there is a history of Breast or Ovarian Cancer in the family, BRCA gene testing can be done to take preventive actions.
Based in Delhi, Sashakt connects with women through visiting schools, colleges, corporates and conducting workshops there. It connects through social media by sharing facts, symptoms, survivor stories, latest research and expert opinion.
Recently, she also hosted a Sashakt Hope Meet in collaboration with one of the top hospitals of Delhi-NCR. In order to connect with the masses, Megha has penned a reality-based, Micro Fiction 'Girl on a Mission' for young girls which is again aimed at generating awareness about Ovarian Cancer and kick-start conversations to answer unanswered queries about the health of every woman.
"The book is now available on Kindle and the website of Sashakt along with libraries of many reputed schools across Delhi-NCR. Not just this, we also host workshops and have collaborated with SHEROES, the first women-only platform, with such a wide-reach internationally as well."
And my next and most obvious question had to be, "How did SHEROES happen to you Megha?"
She glows with warmth and love while answering this, "It is one of the best things to happen to any woman, not just me. I had heard a lot about it through news and social media. I reached out to Sairee about what Sashakt is doing and it was overwhelming to receive immense support from her and the entire team. It has been a wonderful journey as nothing could be more wonderful than women taking a stand for other women. Our aim at Sashakt is to equip each and every woman in India with knowledge about Ovarian Cancer and I couldn’t have found a better platform than SHEROES to do it."
And since then Megha has been a regular in the HEALTH COMMUNITY AT SHEROES.
"I have been posting regularly in the Health Community about Ovarian Cancer. I work in three different ways through SHEROES platform. First: By sharing facts, symptoms, survivor stories, latest research and expert opinion to not only create awareness about Ovarian Cancer but also to initiate conversations.
Second: I motivate women to make their health a priority.
Third: So many ladies reach out to me with their queries and I personally answer each of them or get experts onboard to answer them. It's overwhelming when they share their stories about how they have started listening to their bodies."
Not many know that Megha also runs a school for special children. And it just shows another beautiful side of Megha's soft and empathetic persona/
"In June 2017, I visited “Ashadaan”- the foster home for mentally- disadvantaged girls, for the first time to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. I went there to bring smiles to their faces but instead, that day completely changed my life.
These girls are struggling for basic necessities and they are still all smiles and never complain. The way their faces lit up at the smallest of things, their innocence, their unpretentious mindset and positivity despite all the hazards, was an inspiration. These realizations made me introspect, and I determined to work to make a difference in their lives, for better. I along with my team at Vivekanand School (I am the director here), we started this initiative called Udaan, an afternoon school for these special girls."
Udaan, in words of Megha, may be "a small effort to tell the world that they are as much a part of this world as anyone else is." But then it has succeeded in achieving what many other similar initiatives couldn’t, in a short span of time. Megha claims, "Udaan girls have proved that everything is possible with hard work and grit by giving a successful TEDx performance that was loved by all. The wonderful stuff they are making is handcrafted with love and lots of hard work that they have invested and all the funds raised go to the renovation of their foster home."
So much, in so little time, amid such a busy life. Megha is truly inspiring, isn't it? And she does all this while managing her six-year-old daughter as well, who was just a toddler when these two ventures were shaping up!
No matter how cliched it sounds but I had to ask her, “How do you manage all this Megha?”
"Mahima, where there is a will, there is surely a great way ahead. My day starts at 5:00 AM. After I freshen up, I get Aaradhya, my daughter, ready for school. After she leaves at 6:45, Pradyumn (my husband) and I go for a morning walk, our favourite time together to discuss anything and everything. Then we get ready and reach school by 9:00 AM. My daughter comes back at around 3:30 PM. I try to reach back by 4:00 PM.
4- 8 PM is absolutely her time. We play, we study, we go to classes, we dance, we paint, we chat and basically, we have lots of fun together. I have dinner with her at 7 and then we are in our room and her bedtime rituals start including Story Time, Good thing of the day and Bad thing of the Day and Gratitude Box. She is off to sleep by 8:15 PM.
Next two hours are my “me-time”, something I look forward to the entire day. I scroll through my phone or read a book or watch some web-series or work on the novel I am writing. Then my husband and I talk a bit about the day before we doze off to sleep at around 11:00 PM. So yes, this is my typical day."
Setting Up Your Priorities
For those who wish to know how does she strike work-life balance amid such a tight schedule, Megha writes, "Work-life balance for me is all about setting your priorities right, multitasking, being solution-oriented, staying positive no matter what and going with the flow. And most importantly, I am blessed with immense support from my wonderful family without which nothing would have been possible."
Her daughter is calling out to her while we chat, I am sure it is time for me to leave, and maybe come back to Megha for more, again someday soon. After all, I am sure she will have a lot to share and inspire. But for now she leaves us with a few important messages:
- We women are quite ignorant when it comes to our own health. We have this tendency of living in an illusion that nothing will ever happen to us until it actually happens. We need to give our health the topmost priority. Be informed and if you face any sort of symptom that is new to your body, no matter how vague it is, and it persists for more than 2 weeks, don’t self-medicate at home and please visit a doctor without any delay.
- The only way to beat Cancer is to accept the reality, embrace the pain and find the courage to move forward, one day at a time! It’s a tough road but there’s nothing we can’t go through with love, positivity and patience. Please reach out for support not just to your loved ones but also to the support groups where you can find people who have gone through the journey themselves.
- DREAM. BELIEVE. ACHIEVE. INSPIRE. Make this the mantra of your life and you will never ever look back.
- Give a gender-neutral upbringing to your children where they grow up to be individuals who don’t have gender-based stereotypical behaviours and attitudes leading to a world where both men and women flourish equally and live limitlessly. Keep dazzling, always!
So that was Megha Ahuja in an exclusive chat with me in our #MeetTheSheroes Series. You can follow Megha on SHEROES.
Don't forget to leave your queries or anything else that you wish to state, in the comments below. Till we meet next time, celebrate the SHEROES in and around you.