Recently, a actor-model-social media ‘influencer’ named Poonam Pandey reportedly faked news of her own death. She claimed in a video that she had intended to “create awareness” about cervical cancer by having her public relations’ team announce her demise in a social media post, a few days ago. Pandey’s move has been criticised by many as being a distasteful publicity gimmick, and people have accused her of spreading misinformation. According to news reports, some have even sought legal action against Pandey for falsely claiming she had cervical cancer, and for faking her own death.

All throughout my journey of waking up one not-so-fine-day discovering that I had cancer, was one recurring and haunting question, “Am I going to die?”. I thought I understood the meaning of life, and the pain it can entail, till I was finally told that I had the dreaded ‘C’ word.

To say it gave an invaluable (and frightening) perspective on mortality and sheer helplessness, would be a complete understatement. The pain is so real, and not a matter of casual conjecture, gimmicky posturing or moment for anyone’s personal aggrandisement.

All through the fightback of untellable fear, pain, isolation and lowness, all I prayed and dreamt about was my loved ones, and admittedly, at how unfair life had been to me. Why me? Truth be told, you cannot come remotely close to understanding the depth of despair that a cancer patient undergoes, unless you are unfortunately unlucky enough, to go through the same.

No God, Godmen/Godwomen, scripture or any other form of faith is sufficient enough, ever. Put simply, it is no laughing matter, not even when (or especially when) I live to tell the tale, as a cancer survivor.

Today, I am decidedly more empathetic, sensitive and if I may be immodest enough to claim so, even entitled enough, to comment on what qualifies as utter heartlessness and thoughtless trivialisation of cancer. One such regrettable incident entailed an actor/celebrity (whom I refuse to name in order to deny her any form of publicity that she so desperately craves) sought to announce her own death owing to cervical cancer, and then reneged to clarify that she is indeed alive, after the news of her death had gained media traction.

I do not seek to comment or pass any judgements about her work or past acts of beseeching attention (as it is none of my business) – but her trying to usurp and appropriate the realm of cancer to remain in news, is my business.

I had cancer and I promise you, there is nothing remotely funny about pretending to have one, when you don’t.

There simply has to be some limits and ethics involved in determining the extent of leeway for online publicity campaigns for these so-called ‘celebrities’. Beyond the media glare, glitz and spotlight, she must sit alongside a cancer patient and have a hard look at the mirror and ask herself, “Is the sudden increase of one lakh followers on my Instagram, owing to my fake death justified on the 77,000 people who factually die of cervical cancer annually?”. She could further ask herself, “am I so craven that I could trivialise cancer and death towards my self-promotion?”.

India has had the likes of Wipro's Azim Premji whose generosity and societal concern is not only unmatched, but the amazing grace, selflessness, and silent dignity with which he has ‘given’ is a masterclass in doing something for societies. Even in tinsel township of Bollywood, there are fine examples of dignified conduct with actors like Sonali Bendre, Lisa Ray, Nafisa Ali, Tahira Kashyap etc., none of whom have made it a realm of personal publicity or trying to gain sympathy. They are brave fighters who kept their privations and struggles to themselves, as indeed any self-respecting individual would.

People who believe the canard about her concern to spread information about HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine protecting against this cancer, would do well to understand the history-sheeter’s cheap attempts to goad Indian Cricket Team to victory, earlier. Did she really follow-up or promote cricket, after the hullabaloo?

Her attempts to attribute her actions of ‘do-gooder’ efforts to spread the word and initiate debate on cancer actually demeans the tireless efforts and struggles of not just the patients but of the individuals, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and Activists who spare no effort to spread the word. They do so with no ulterior motive of self-aggrandisement or promotion, for they are genuinely concerned.

If there is one word that all cancer patients dread or even struggle to rationalise and acknowledge, then it is ‘death’. Imagine the impact it may have had on the emotions and feelings of those fighting cancer, whilst some partook to brazen marketing. She wasn’t one of us, and she had no right to strip us of our hope, positivity and dignity in our struggles. Not only was her death a hoax, but her supposed concern for cancer is also clearly a hoax.

My own experience of not knowing if I will make it, has taught me the lesson of humility, gratitude and to live the life I can, by being even more ‘alive’ and giving towards those who still are undergoing the struggle of not knowing what lies ahead. I cannot and will not allow anyone to talk about death so casually, especially about our pain, sorrow and infinite loneliness.

Away from cancer, the incident is also reflective of the poor state of media which reports without confirming news. It also says a lot about our supposed PR/marketing firms who can stoop to such inhumanely low levels to get their clients the metaphorical TRP’s.

About the actor herself, as a cancer patient whom she claimed to speak on behalf of – much as I found her action insensitively distasteful, utterly despicable and shockingly shameful, I would still not wish her to go through the suffering (even for a day) that we did, for it is that painful. May the almighty bless her with some shame, tons of overdue humanity and understanding of a word she clearly hasn’t heard of – it is called dignity.