Last year, Anu Sehgal, the founder of educational cultural and literacy company The Culture Tree, was driving her two young sons, then ages 6 and 9, and their friend to soccer practice when she answered a phone call that no one wants to receive. She had breast cancer. Her husband was supposed to fly from their home in New York to Texas for work that evening and canceled upon hearing the news. Suddenly, their life had changed in a big way. Their focus shifted from career opportunities, homework help and planning healthy dinners for the family to battling breast cancer and essentially doing whatever it will take to beat it.
There was no history of cancer in Sehgal’s family. “I grew up in India and moved to the U.S. for higher education,” Sehgal said. “I come from a very unusual family in that health is a huge focus and we are all very much into working out. Cancer has a correlation with unhealthy habits and that was very much not the case for me,” she said.
Her knee-jerk reaction was to assume that her cancer was due to an environmental influence, and so she and her husband tossed all non-stick cookware, plastic dishes and the like from their apartment on the night of her diagnosis in hopes to minimize any dangerous exposure to their young boys. In hindsight, they realize this probably wasn’t necessary, but she openly shares this story today to capture the panic and desperation they faced. “We were frantic,” Sehgal said. “If genetics were not involved, we assumed that it had to be our environment.” Sehgal later learned that there was likely a hormonal component to her cancer.
With a whirlwind of doctor appointments and procedure planning, Sehgal moved very fast and in survivor mode. There simply wasn’t any time to cry or mope around, she explained. She directed her focus to being her own advocate, pushing her oncologist and helping her family cope with this new norm that they were facing.
“We just wanted to get the cancer out,” she said. Her first surgery, a bilateral mastectomy, was scheduled. “Then, there was this desire to just keep moving,” Sehgal added. Chemotherapy followed. “It was the hardest thing I’ve had to go through,” she admitted. She scheduled her eight sessions on Fridays, giving her the weekends to help recover. Her sons showed their love and care by offering to fetch her water and curling up in bed with her while reading books and holding her hand. Nausea and fatigue were major hurdles for her to overcome. She later received surgery for implants. Throughout it all, the goal was to be cancer free by the end of 2018.
Fortunately, Sehgal beat cancer and the experience completely transformed her perspective on life. For starters, the outpouring of support from her family and friends and other breast cancer survivors who cheered her on throughout the journey touched her in a profound way. She is also now less tolerant of any nonsense happening around her and has a refined appreciation for the things in life that truly matter. “I have a new appreciation for life,” she said. “I want to be there for my kids and my family, and that is much more of a priority now.”
Now that her cancer trials and tribulations are behind her, Sehgal can again focus on her precious family and her dreams for her business, The Culture Tree. “I want to make a big impact from a cultural literacy and cultural tolerance standpoint,” she said. “I want to encourage children to become cheerleaders for empathy, tolerance and to strive to become true global citizens.”
Through The Culture Tree, Sehgal can now continue to plant seeds that will influence the way children view and make a mark on the world around them.