She fought cancer first, now she's fighting malnutrition
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She fought cancer first, now she's fighting malnutrition

'It came like a surprise in my life'

She fought cancer first, now she's fighting malnutrition

Anchal Sharma, 36, resident of Delhi's Vasant Kunj area is a cancer survivor. And like that wasn't enough, she is also the founder of 'Meals of Happiness', an NGO that provides free food to underprivileged children across Delhi and Gurugram every day. 

Sharma's life has never been steady since she was diagnosed with cancer. You know how they say "when bad things happen, they all happen together"? Well, Sharma seemed to have lived it down. While her father was diagnosed with tuberculosis, her mother was paralysed and her brother got a divorce, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer on January 15, 2017.

"It (cancer) came like a surprise in my life. The word 'cancer' itself is scary. I remember the day I realised something was wrong with my body. I was celebrating my birthday with my friends that day. I noticed a lump on the right side of my breast and my arm was swollen. It was very tough for me to cope after that. I loved playing sports but had to stop. With time, I realised that my body was getting weaker and changing a lot. I started researching about these changes. That's when I realised that it could be cancer as well. Now, the biggest challenge was to share all these things with my family," Sharma recalled.

Sharma, naturally, was afraid to share this news with her family. Her friend, Rishi Doshi, was the one who got Sharma her first doctor's appointment. Doshi spent no time in booking an appointment with his family doctor after Shamra finally gave in and told him about her health issues. 

"I went to the clinic and met the doctor. He told me I should have gone to a doctor earlier. I got scared  and asked him what stage the cancer was in and he said that this could be the last stage. I remember crying and just losing myself. He suggested treatment, which according to him was going to be very painful. However, I was determined to change my life, to live."

"After all the necessary tests, my treatment was started and the first surgery was done. I am glad that my friend Rishi was there. I was all alone on the day of surgery. After it was done, I went back home and told everything to my family. They were very supportive and strong. I could see the positivity around me. Dr. Harit Chaturvedi did the surgery, Dr Nitesh Rohtagi was my medical doctor, and Dr Charu Garg was my radiation doctor. Fortunately, some of the most amazing doctors treated me," Sharma added.

Finding life, finding love

Love comes in most unexpected ways. Either you don't love or you love unconditionally. Some find love in school classrooms, some find it in coffee shops, some through apps and some find it in friends. Sharma found the love of her life during her treatment. 

A choreographer by profession, Shoaib Ali Khan worked at a fitness club in Delhi's Saket area. Before Sharma was diagnosed with cancer, she attended his classes. Khan, although destined to meet Sharma in due time, left the country and moved to Dubai. As fate would have it, Sharma continued with her classes even after her diagnosis, and the two of them met after he returned.

For Khan, it was love at first sight. For Sharma, she had a hard time wrapping her head around 'love'. "He was not in India and had no plans to come back but destiny brought him here, I guess. My chemotherapy was going on and I was  bald. I had lost my confidence, strength, and courage, but God had plans so I just hung in there and took my chances."

"The first time he said "hello" to me, he just stood there, smiled and expressed his feelings for me. I was shocked. I couldn't understand his love. After all, how could he love someone who had cancer and was bald? I took some time to understand this, but fortunately, we are now a happy couple. Like I said, God always has plans for everyone. I would say we all should keep patience. You never know how one ends up finding love. So live and be in love," Sharma added.

Meals of Happiness

After a week of her cancer diagnosis, Sharma started an initiative to provide free food to the city's underprivileged children, which is now a registered NGO  named ‘Meals of Happiness’. 

The initiative started when Sharma saw some kids begging at a traffic signal. When the children asked her for money, she refused and gave them food instead. Later, she took the kids to a restaurant to eat. While some other customers at the restaurant left when they saw the kids eating there, Sharma joined the kids, sat with them and asked about how they survived and what their parents did for a living.

This is when inspiration struck Sharma and she started her NGO. In the beginning, she started cooking all meals with her mother and distributed them to the children in nearby slums. Later when people saw her helping these kids, they started contributing by giving money or by volunteering.

Sharma said, "I realised the magnitude of the issue and that it was too big to be taken care of from my home's kitchen. It was at this point that I officially started my NGO, registered with the government, and began seeking donations from people. In just a couple of months, I was able to feed over 200 kids on an everyday basis. On special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or festivals, people would donate money to feed over 2,000 children. Till date, MOH has served 2 million meals. On many occasions, MOH has raised funds for the medical needs of people living in slums and has also helped poor girls get married."

Sharma is now working to defeat hunger and malnourishment among the kids living in slum areas. During her cancer treatment, she noticed that there was a lack of resources for cancer patients and skin products catering to their sensitive skin due to chemotherapy. 

Sharma, along with her friend Joe and Shoaib, started a company 'CanHeal'  which makes skin products with zero chemicals. Apart from this, Sharma also conducts regular workshops with hospitals all over the country. Through these workshops, Sharma said she motivates cancer patients and teaches them how to wear a bandana, if required, during the course of their treatment. 

After 32 sessions of radiation, 6 sessions of chemotherapy and a couple of surgeries, Sharma is currently undergoing her 5-year-long post-cancer treatment. With a smile on her face and renewed hope in her eyes, Sharma continues to feed the less-privileged children. "I am a fighter and I will continue to fight till my last breath," she says.