World Tuberculosis day 2017: Television actress Aishwarya Sakhuja recalls her battle with TB and the long road to recovery

She braved it, here is her story in her own words. Yes, you too can fight TB!

We all remember the witty, gorgeous Toasty with the most beautiful smile from the famous daily soap Saas Bina Sasural, that once aired on Sony TV. We also saw her share the stage with her husband Rohit Nag in one of the famous dance reality shows Nach Baliye. It was during that season when Aishwarya bravely talked on national television about her tryst with tuberculosis and how it had stopped life in the tracks.

In a no-holds-barred interview with us on the eve of World Tuberculosis Day, she speaks about the condition, her recovery and why she places health on her priority list.

Life rewind

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Almost six years ago Aishwarya was diagnosed with TB, a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is an airborne disease which usually attacks the lungs but can also travel to other parts of the body. Its symptoms are the obvious ones like coughing, fever, weight loss, blood in phlegm, chest pain, etc. However, she faced none of it. I was always thin and never noticed any weight loss. But a lump on my collarbone made me worried. That coupled with fatigue and few episodes of coughing made me go and see the doctor, she recalls. The doctor grew suspicious and asked her to undergo a Mantoux test for TB. I had to do this test several times as the results were not inclusive, which meant multiple pricks on my forearm and not to forget the pain that followed, says the brave survivor.

For starters, Mantoux Test is an injectable procedure where a small amount of tuberculosis protein is injected into the upper layer of the forearm. The results are derived after 48 or 72 hours. If infected with TB, the skin reacts to the antigens forming a bump on the site of injection. Thereafter, Aishwarya's test results confirmed tuberculosis of lymph nodes. I was shocked beyond words as I always thought TB wasn t something that can get to me. For me, it was more a disease that affected the rural section of the society. My diagnosis made me believe how wrong I was, diseases never discriminate, she says ruefully. In fact, she had been so hygiene conscious that she asked people on the sets not to spit around or cough openly. Yet, I was the one who ended up getting this infection, she says.

Living with tuberculosis

Once you get TB, your immune system fights the germs and stops them from spreading which makes them inactive. This state is called latent TB. However, they still remain in the system and can get active anytime. So doctors prescribe antibiotics to prevent it from spreading. Once the TB bacteria start multiplying, it becomes active TB making one sick and weak. With medication one also needs a lot of R&R to recover faster. While I was prescribed drugs for the treatment, I admit I had been ignorant about my health. I refused to take rest and help my body gain its immunity back. I kept working (it was my first TV soap) and my condition went from bad to worse. My doctor warned me that if I continue like this, it can make me bed ridden, she says. So the medication did little to keep up with her fast-paced life. I remember I had to take a red coloured pill which made my teeth stained and every month-and-half I had to go for teeth whitening procedures. Soon, the side effect of the medications kicked in. I became a difficult person to deal. I remained groggy, upset, cranky right from the crack of dawn to night as my body was not able to deal with all that I had put it through. Add to it joint pains that almost made movements difficult, she recalls. What more? The lump that appeared on her collarbone had to be surgically removed, which further took a toll on her.

While TB has a lot of stigma attached to it, thankfully it never made Aishwarya go back to her cocoon. People at work and family had always been supportive. While on the sets, I always got help when needed. I used to throw up almost every day while shooting. I started losing weight and also my hair. When I went back to the doctor I learnt that my condition has progressed into multi-drug resistant TB, where my prescribed medication was of little or no help, she recalls.

Looking for hope

Treatment for MDR-Tuberculosis is different and more aggressive one. I was forced to stop working, pack up and move to Delhi (to live with my dad) to take control of my health. I was put on a 90 days treatment program where I had to take Streptomycin injections (an antibiotic dose which kills the bacteria and stops production of protein on which these bacteria thrives). My dad and Rohit (we tied the knot later) took care of me to get me back on track, she recalls. Previously Aishwarya had mentioned how the illness got her and Rohit closer. Sure, love did more work than medications to get the chirpy girl back on her feet. It took me a little more than two years to get cured of the disease. This because I failed to put health ahead of other nitty-gritty of life, she says.

Conquering with courage

Today, with health on my side I am more cautious and disciplined in my life. I take care of my diet and nutrition; once where I ate only one chapatti now, I happily eat four (which people don t believe). I listen to my body and have learnt to give it adequate rest to take on with the thrills of life. I don t even take any symptom for granted. Even a sore throat or a cough makes me run to the doctor for a blood test and other procedures needed to confirm that I am fine, says Aishwarya.

Surviving TB, Aishwarya has a word of wisdom for girls who put health at the back of their priority list: Take your body seriously. Give it rest, nutrition and care. Listen to your body more. Never ignore the signs it sends to you for help, stay healthy.

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