I am a creative professional, photographer, independent woman and an Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB) survivor. The last bit is particularly relevant because when I was fighting TB, I looked for others – particularly women – who were openly stating that they had fought and defeated TB. Or that they had built productive lives after TB. Unfortunately, I found none. Usually, I always refrain from being in the limelight. As a photographer, my approach is to remain in the shadows and watch the action from afar. This time, however, I realised that I had to be in the limelight and speak out.
It was 2013. I was barely 19 when I began coughing and losing weight. Don’t all 19-year-olds get that from too much partying? Or staying out? But it wasn’t that. Tests revealed that I had XDR TB. I wasted no time in seeking the right treatment – mostly because I was aware of TB. You see, I come from a TB affected family. My father, grandfather and uncles have also had TB in the past, and all have recovered. Just to clarify TB isn’t genetic – it can happen to anyone. But until that point, I didn’t realise that such misconceptions about TB fuel its stigma. I thought of it as just another disease.
I did not think that my family’s history with TB was a problem. I did not speak of it with bitterness, but with optimism. It was this history that helped me understand what to expect and how to deal with the disease. I was well supported. People around me knew what to do, treated me with care and made me laugh. You know how people say, ‘No, we won’t go to her house, she has TB.’ None of that happened to me. And yet, I did witness the lack of awareness about TB. And it was damaging.