Her life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in March 2018 at age 29, after noticing an unusual change in her body and having it checked. With no family history of breast or ovarian cancer, which are often linked, this news came to Sonya Keshwani as a complete shock.
What followed after, was a series of countless tests and medical appointments every day that required traveling back and forth between different medical offices to get all the answers. As Sonya recalls, “Getting answers is not always easy. And sometimes you have to go through multiple rounds. From the moment I stepped foot in New York for my treatment, I knew that this is life now, that this is how it is going to be and that I have to be brave about it.“
For Sonya, treatment meant a grueling course of intense chemotherapy spanning several weeks. She had six rounds of chemo, one every three weeks for the rest of the summer of 2018. Not fully grasping how painful and draining the treatment can be, she told herself, “Of course I can handle it and it will be fine.”
However, it was tough, both physically and emotionally, leaving Sonya in no capacity to perform everyday life activities without pain. “I could not even get up for a glass of water without being in extreme pain,” she recalls. Recovery was long and painful as she tried to shift her focus from the world of treatment to regaining control of her life.
During the same time, Sonya managed to go to Lisbon for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and that experience had a profound impact on her. She explains, “After having found the lump in April, and getting the diagnosis, I had Deedar several times that year and felt that strength and determination inside of me renewed. It was a very important time for me to go there, get that experience and carry that with me through the rest of my recovery.”
Throughout that summer, Sonya kept coming back to the realization that she didn’t have to do it alone. She had her faith, and her team around her and reminded herself that she wasn’t the only one going through this.
One way Sonya made sense of the pain and agony she went through is to use her inclination towards style and fashion by creating headwrap options for women facing cancer and hair loss. Early on during her treatment, she experienced severe hair loss and realized that wigs can be incredibly expensive and uncomfortable. She wanted to recapture her look through something which was unique and comfortable, and something that gave her a sense of pride.
So, in between treatments, Sonya started designing fashionable headwraps and created a company, StyleEsteem Wardrobe, with fun, colorful fabrics. “By creating my own chic and trendy headwraps I was able to transform the day-to-day of my healing experience,” she says. Sonya’s headwraps are distributed primarily through online sales. For each wrap sold, she donates one to a cancer patient.
Today, along with starting her new career, Sonya travels a lot more and spends much more time with her family in Queens. She teaches in a course on Communications and Public Relations at Columbia University and she is also active on several social media platforms built to support cancer survivors and previvors; this is where she tells her story and encourages women to take care of themselves. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, cancer, it doesn’t have to hold you back,” Sonya says. “You don’t have to be like anyone else, you can just be you.”