Empowerment Series: Founder, Style Esteem Wardrobe, Sonya Keshwani Shares her Journey as a Survivor with AW
Sonya Keshwani showed up on my radar after catching her interview on a segment of a New York local news show. She is soft-spoken, gracious but also a woman of strength, empowerment and resilience. I was honored to meet her virtually for an interview that awakened my spirit during a challenging week.
It is estimated that 1 in 8 women have a chance of getting breast cancer during their lifetime. Although, it may not seem like a lot, it’s one diagnosis too many. If you or someone you know has gone through the traumatic diagnosis and/or treatment then you will appreciate the pain of knowing you’re living with a thief. A disease that steals life from the body and replaces it with extreme fear of death. Sonya received this news in 2018. The cancer changed her life but thankfully, as you will find out from this interview, the disease did not take her spirit.
Like most of us, I’ve had personal struggles that have tested me in countless ways. I am a believer that difficult times offer the greatest growth. What has been the biggest revelation since learning of your breast cancer diagnosis in 2018? I was diagnosed at the age of 29, it was not on my radar, no history of it in my family, nothing to warn me of the life-changing event. Always ambitious, hard-working and energetic but the diagnosis changed everything – life as I knew it, changed in seconds. There were so many appointments, testing, the process made me feel like a science experiment, it was dehumanizing. I had a talk with myself about what this would look like. Expectations of how different life was going to be going forward weighed heavily on my mind. A choice needed to be made, be fluid, go with the reality of things. I chose happiness, no matter how the day was for me. Every hour, minute wanting to scream but I focused on the positive which helped my overall focus.
We have moved away from the perception that women are weak or fragile. Women are resilient and increasingly brave, as we look for different ways to be heard. Style Esteem Wardrobe is a designer headwrap company that offers colorful and stylish headwraps for women, each with an empowering name attached to it. How did you determine the names for the headwraps? When the hair loss came, I tried some wigs but they were uncomfortable. Losing your hair is painful and I wanted to create something that was all about the woman’s experience. Make something to get excited about, be uplifting for women like me that wanted to own their authenticity. Each headwrap is its own superhero cape with a name that embodies a super power.
How has starting this initiative changed you, personally and emotionally? The focus shifted to others instead of myself. I want to concentrate on the company and helping others. This different mindset has to do with worrying less about the self and being happy in the present. I have found purpose and“finding your why” is what carries you through the years – it changes your life.
The global hair market makes close to 90 billion in the United States. As women, oftentimes we place a good deal of weight on our looks. In an interview with Cancer Wellness, you said “Hair loss doesn’t make you any less pretty. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman. And it’s not taking away from the real you.” Can you describe the moment you came to this realization, when you saw beyond the aesthetics to the truly beautiful and authentic you? My struggle with hair loss began after the first round of chemo. Once the second round of treatment came, the doctor said to me “make sure you go buy a wig.” My scalp was raw, bruised which made my head hurt. No one warned me what it would feel like. Wigs were painful and uncomfortable. Chemo procedures were an exhausting process, putting on a mesh to adjust a wig that was not natural, did not seem worthwhile. I wanted to feel like myself, I purchased some fabric and pattern and started sewing my own headwraps! Beauty is how you feel about yourself, I am beautiful with or without hair – it’s still me.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Do you have any advice for women who may just have received their own diagnosis? You must take time for yourself, process a diagnosis and care for your mental health. Allow space to work through the things you’ll need to do going forward. Many decisions are ahead of you but own your story. Do what you’re ready for and on your time. The other important thing to remember is that you get to tell this story to who you want and when you feel prepared. You shape the narrative, tell a story that empowers you – on your terms.
What do you say to women who are delaying their regular mammograms for fear of the pandemic or outcome of testing? I know some women are afraid of the testing for the news they could get, “they rather not know.” I can’t stress how important it is to get tested. Early detection can save your life, it gives you a chance to get treatment for the disease before it worsens. Since the pandemic began, testing has decreased substantially. You cannot let fear stop you from taking care of yourself.
AW likes to end interviews with a positive message, quote or mantra to inspire readers. Can you provide women experiencing a difficult time some words of encouragement? One of my favorite quotes is by Naomi Campbell. “This is how I dress, and this is how I carry myself. What do they expect me to do, walk in looking all drib and drab? I’ve never looked drib and drab in my life,” she told W magazine in a feature titled “The Naomi Diaries”.
“Just because I have cancer, doesn’t mean that I have to look like I have cancer.”
Life can be harsh, testing us every step of the way. I think the real winners are those that despite being dealt a bad hand, turn their lives into a masterpiece of great strength and success. Speaking to Sonya had a huge effect on me, personally and emotionally. She is confident, strong and stunning – a woman who carries herself with so much grace. She has taken the power away from cancer by inspiring others to find acceptance with their diagnosis instead of fighting it.
The interview gifted me with a moment of enlightenment. It opened my mind, reminding me that we are as powerful as we believe. Her story is sure to encourage readers and spark a light of hope. Whatever you are going through right now, find a way to turn it into positive energy. Allow this moment to fuel the determination to dig yourself out of the turmoil and keep going!
AW is lucky to have been given the opportunity to speak this remarkably powerful lady for its empowerment series.
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