Bollywood actress Sonali Bendre has returned to India after undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of cancer in New York.
Social media users are full of praise for the 43-year-old actress, who has been candidly documenting her cancer journey for months.
The star’s husband Goldie Behl told local media that she was “recovering” but would need regular check-ups.
Some cancer patients have said the star’s openness has been “encouraging”.
Renuka Prasad, a breast cancer survivor who works at the Indian Cancer Society, told the BBC that seeing celebrities open up about “taboo topics” like cancer is a “welcome change”.
“Many patients don’t always get to hear stories about the individuals behind the disease, so when they see people like Sonali Bendre celebrating life, it’s very encouraging and motivating,” she said. “It shows them that cancer doesn’t have to be a death warrant – there is life after it and it can often be good.”
A real life happy ending
Geeta Pandey, BBC News Delhi
When I first read about Sonali Bendre’s cancer in July, I immediately thought of her role in the Bollywood superhit Kal Ho Na Ho.
There, Bendre plays friend, confidant and doctor to the hero, played by superstar Shah Rukh Khan who is terminally ill.
The scenes in the film play out in New York city, where Bendre helps Khan deal with a weak heart that finally gives up in a finale, dissolved in tears of all leading and fringe actors.
Fifteen years after her guest appearance in the film, as Bendre made the transition from the reel-life doctor to the real-life patient, she was in New York city for the past few months, battling “high grade cancer”.
Khan, her co-star in a number of films, was among the Bollywood celebrities who visited her in hospital.
On Monday morning, India woke up to the happy news that Bendre had beaten cancer.
She arrived at Mumbai airport early in the morning, holding husband Goldie Behl’s hands, grinning happily.
It’s a fittingly happy ending.
Ms Prasad, who works with cancer patients, also added that “celebrities talking about such diseases is important because it bolsters awareness”.
In a Twitter post on Sunday, Bendre said “the fight is not yet over”, but that she was looking forward to being back home in Mumbai city.
Her husband Mr Behl told reporters that “the disease can come back” even though the treatment has ended.
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After her diagnosis, Bendre took to Instagram with a post in which she said she “was determined to fight” the cancer and thanked her family and friends. She added that her “high-grade cancer” had metastised.
Fans flocked to the comments section, wishing her the best for a speedy recovery.
In another touching post that resonated with fans, she also opened up about what it was like to break the news of her illness to her 12-year-old son.
“As much as we wanted to protect him, we knew it was important to tell him the full facts […] He took the news so maturely…and instantly became a source of strength and positivity for me,” she wrote on Instagram in July.
Her posts have garnered attention for capturing the various stages of living with the disease – a video montage about her decision to shave her head, a heartfelt note on having “bad days” and pushing through and some cheerful photos with close friends and family, among others.
Bendre is not the first Indian celebrity to speak out about cancer. Cricketer Yuvraj Singh, who was diagnosed in 2012, was also very outspoken about his battle with the disease and even wrote a book about it.
Actor Irrfan Khan, who announced that he was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour earlier this year in an open letter, was flooded with messages of support from fans.
There have been other attempts by Bollywood celebrities to bring neglected topics into the mainstream. Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone has openly talked about her struggle with depression – and has often highlighted the importance of treating mental health in various media interviews.
In 2015, she started a foundation to change the negative narrative and stigma around mental health in the country.
Many commended Padukone’s efforts since seeking medical help for psychological issues is still largely taboo in India. Mental illness is often equated with madness, and the country has a high suicide rate attributed to depression and anxiety.