Dancing Through Chemotherapy: Kathak Artist’s Battle with Ovarian Cancer

Kathak dancer Alaknanda shares her inspiring journey of surving ovarian cancer and how her dance helped her stay positive.

Written by: Rupsha Bhadra Updated at: 2023-03-29 14:40

The last two decades of Alaknanda Dasgupta's life have revolved around her one true love - Kathak. Shows, concepts, performances, and training took up most of her time. Elegant and expressive, with her bold red-rimmed lips, and dark kohl-lined eyes, she called the art form her "soul dance". In March 2022, she was preparing for her dream production "Maharaas: A Celebration of Life" to be held in a couple of weeks in Kamani Auditorium, Delhi. Little did she know that her own life will soon be spurred into a whirlwind of doctor visits, hospitals, surgeries, and chemotherapy. 

This is a story in our series “Survivor Stories” where we hear from people who’ve combatted or are living with life-altering diseases or ailments. Read the previous ones here. 

ReadSurviving Cancer: Actress Chhavi Mittal’s Winning Battle with Breast Cancer

Alaknanda Dasgupta is a Noida-based Kathak artist, who’s been teaching and performing the art for around three decades now. A workaholic by nature, a mother of two, and Brand Ambassador for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, she was immersed in preparation for her big production when she noticed a few bodily changes that made her pause and reflect. 

Ovarian Cancer Signs & Early Symptoms  

“I’m nearing 50, and in the menopausal phase, and suddenly I noticed spotting after my periods,” recounts Alaknanda. “It went on for 10-12 days, and then I got a little alarmed. I rushed to a gynaecologist and they suggested an ultrasound. On checking, she suggested a CT scan and in that we found a lump in my left ovary,” she told OnlyMyHealth.com. Doctors insisted that it needed to be immediately operated on. 

For a deeper understanding of what Alaknanda went through, and ovarian cancer in general, OnlyMyHealth got in touch with Dr. Kanika B Modi, Senior Consultant, Gynaecologic Oncologist at Max Institute of Cancer Care, Max, Saket. Dr. Modi also treated Alaknanda. Her insights are under the “doctor speaks” section in relevant parts of this article. 

Role of Surgery In Ovarian Cancer 

“But I have a show coming up in 21 days!” I told my doctor,” said Alaknanda, reluctant to get the surgery done before her show. 

Without divulging news about this lump, she went ahead with the performance as was planned. The show was a huge success. “Kamani auditorium was overflowing with people,” she beamed while talking to us. 

Soon after, she began her hunt for a doctor who she could trust and be comfortable with. It was important for Alaknanda, that she founds a doctor who she could have faith in, and she could open up about every concern without hesitation. Apart from looking at relevant credentials, she insists that people focus on finding a doctor who they can trust fully. Alaknanda zeroed in on Dr. Meenakshi Ahuja, a gynaecologist at Fortis Hospital in Greater Kailash, Delhi. “I liked her vibe, her spontaneity, and decided to get my surgery done by her.” She scheduled her surgery for the end of May.

“I had my surgery done on the 24th of May. Being a dancer, I didn’t want tears and cuts on my body, so opted for a laser one. At that point, we assumed it was a benign lump,” said Alaknanda. A 12-hour-long surgery was conducted to remove the lump fully. 

Her doctor felt something didn’t feel quite right about the lump and insisted on doing a biopsy. The results of that biopsy showed that Alaknanda had cancer stage one.

Doctor Speaks: 

Q. What are the causes and symptoms of ovarian cancer?

A: Dr. Modi elaborates on the causes and symptoms of ovarian cancer:


  • 1. Older age
  • 2. Genetic mutations that run in families like BRCA, family history of ovarian cancer
  • 3. Never having been pregnant
  • 4. Early menarche and late menopause
  • 5. Long-standing condition of endometriosis

Symptoms are vague, usually silent:

  • 1. Bloating
  • 2. Early satiety
  • 3. Weight Loss
  • 4. Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • 5. Fatigue, lethargy

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What Next After Cancer Diagnosis

“I was shocked,” she said. “My friends cried for me, but my optimism didn’t let me break down much.” However, after one surgery, you can’t touch the body immediately afterward, so everything had to wait for two whole months. She recalls it to be a difficult phase, but she held on to hope strongly.  

After a few more visits to oncologists, to re-check and get second opinions, they were sure that it was indeed cancer, and that she needed another surgery. This would have to be an open-cut one, to check the lymph nodes, to check if cancer has spread further. 

“I am a very optimistic person, I believe in having hope, so I focused on just trying to recover,” said Alaknanda. “It was my birthday on 28th July, I was turning 48, and Dr. Kanika Batra Modi insisted I get admitted the next day. But I wasn’t keen on it at all, I had two dance shows coming up. I hadn’t danced in two months!” 

Needless to say, the doctor was anxious and angry, and her friends weren’t happy either. 

“But I said “mar nahi jaungi” (I won’t die)”, recounts Alaknanda, resolute to not cancel any of her shows . She firmly believed in a divine plan, and that nothing would really worsen if she finished her shows and then went ahead with the second surgery. “Commitments were very important to me, and I wanted to finish them.”

Finding Hope and Joy Through It All

When one faces a life-threatening condition, emotions run amok. 

“There were a lot of emotional upheavals, some crying, a bit of everything. On the day of my birthday, I asked my doctor if I could have a glass of red wine! And she laughed out loud! Whatever it is, I thought, I might as well have some fun!” narrated Alaknanda. 

Having a sense of unwavering hope was key for her. “Every day you get to live life, you only dance. Every morning is a hope to live, to love, to enjoy. That is my life mantra.”

On the 17th of August Alaknanda was operated on. The surgery was an open-cut one and required 35 stitches across her stomach. 

“That surgery was like hell. It hurt so much,” she said. “But by God’s grace, all my lymph nodes and stomach linings were negative for cancer.”

Doctor Speaks:

Q. When can one resume normal life after cancer treatment?

A: Dr Kanika Modi said, “There are no restrictions on diet, one can lead an absolutely normal lifestyle after all the treatment is over. Fertility sparing surgery can be done in early cases in women desirous of child bearing, in some cases drugs to prevent damage to the normal ovaries can be given before chemotherapy begins. Normal lifestyle and movements can happen within six weeks after treatment.

Chemotherapy and Embracing a New Look

After a month of the surgery her chemotherapy started. She would need six sessions of it. After the first chemo session, her hair started falling off. 

I was in Haridwar then, with my son. I decided to shave it off,” she said. “I think this bald looks quite good on me!”

Between her chemotherapy sessions, Alaknanda did not stop dancing. She did around 12 shows. Dancing was her source of strength. Gracing the stage and emoting earnestly was her way of living her life to the fullest, even if she was battling something as scary as cancer. 

Unabashed and unashamed of a bald head, she flaunted it gracefully. She wore a turban while performing to the song Chaap Tilak, and remembered the crowd going berserk when at the end of it, she opened the turban and tossed it to reveal her bald head.  

“There is life beyond cancer. I am not dead, I am breathing, so why should I live in a hideout? Dance gave me a lot of positivity. Life goes on!” she claimed. Her beaming positivity is an inspiration for many. 

On the 13th of January, she had her last chemo session. In two weeks, she did the sequel to her dream production Maharaas 2.0. Sporting a gorgeous painted peacock feather on her head, she danced bald in front of a packed audience in Kamani Auditorium. “People shy away from going out. It’s just hair, it’ll grow back, why shouldn’t I dance bald?” she said. 

Her bald head, apart from giving hope to others going through something similar, also serves as a symbol of her strength and courage. It stands for a spirit that is determined to not let diseases deter her from living and celebrating her best life. 

Alaknanda has gone on to do photoshoots flaunting her new look. “Every day I get messages on facebook and Instagram about how inspiring it has been for people to see someone take it in their stride and flaunt it so well,” she added. 

She strongly urges people to be alert and aware of any bodily changes that they might notice. It was her early detection that helped her cancer treatment. 

Doctor Speaks:

Q: What are the most important things to be cautious about if someone is diagnosed with ovarian cancer?

A: The most important thing to be cautious about, Dr Modi says, is consulting the right specialist and implementing an adequate treatment plan in a timely fashion. Early detection is key. Being a peritoneal surface malignancy, it mostly spreads in the abdominal cavity but in late stages can end up spreading to the liver, lungs etc. Chances of recurrence are 5-10% in early ovarian cancer after treatment but in late cases up to 50-60% chance of recurrence. 

Alaknanda’s fight against cancer is one that beams with willpower strong enough to move mountains. “Despite all the pain, have the strength mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and have the faith that sunshine will soon be on you! Don’t give up on hope,” she signs off. 

Special mention: One Frame Story and Sangeeta Das Banerjee for the pictures used in the story


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