The Big C: How Seema and Nithin navigated the emotional rollercoaster

In Conversation with Shradha Sharma, Seema Patil and Nithin Kamath narrate their personal journey after Seema’s breast cancer diagnosis.

The Big C: How Seema and Nithin navigated the emotional rollercoaster

Friday November 24, 2023,

6 min Read

Key Takeaways

  • Seema Patil was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2021 despite being extremely fit.
  • Seema and her husband Nithin Kamath, the co-founder of Zerodha, spent several months navigating hospital visits and chemo sessions.
  • The duo is keen to spread awareness about breast cancer and the importance of regular physical activity.
  • Seema believes that having a support system and access to therapists is key to emotional wellbeing.

It was November 2021. One moment, Seema Patil and Nithin Kamath were busy looking up tickets for their yearly vacation, and the next, they were researching life-saving treatments. Seema had been waiting on the results of her annual health checkups, and when the reports came, her mammogram revealed a small lump in her right breast. A biopsy and PET scan confirmed her worst fears. The lump was malignant. The next several months were a test of her physical and emotional strength. 

When I met Seema a few weeks ago, almost two years after the initial diagnosis, I was inspired by her sheer determination and will. She is someone who, despite being emotional, uses humour to tide through tough situations. Even amid this unexpected and painful discovery, Seema shows courage that goes beyond personal well-being and extends into helping the wider community. I remain awestruck by her candid nature, by the fact that Seema sprinkles her reflections on life after the cancer diagnosis with so many light-hearted observations. 

“When something like this happens, the first reaction is often ‘Why me?’. In my case, I said ‘thank god it is me and not any of my loved ones’,” says Seema, in conversation with Shradha Sharma. 

Initially, Seema says she put on a brave face. Soon after, there was chaos and confusion. When Seema and Nithin started to speak to friends and family, they were confronted by the full reality of the illness. 

Breast cancer is among the most prevalent cancers among Indian women. Data shows that ~26 out of 100,000 women get breast cancer in their lifetime. However, what is not clear are the exact causes. In Seema’s case, she was told that the treatment period might be anywhere between six months to a year.

“I wanted to know how quickly we could get done with the treatment process. However, the doctors advised me to slow down and explained the entire journey,” Seema reminisces. 

Having the unconditional support of her friends and family, especially her husband Nithin, nudged Seema to chronicle her experiences with breast cancer on a personal website. 

“What has helped us in this journey is not taking things too seriously and fooling around, making jokes. We were impacted, no doubt, but we decided to tackle it with humour,” adds Nithin. 

The courage to laugh it off  

Cancer, by itself, is taboo, and breast cancer, for women, is even more so. Society insists you keep it under wraps. Seema and Nithin did the exact opposite. The couple directly addressed the mastectomy instead of making it an unspoken topic.  

In fact, Seema recollects how she turned a conversation about her mastectomy into a boob job discussion. “All of this fooling around made it a lot less tougher than what it would have been,” she adds. 

For Nithin, it was all about finding the right balance between taking care of Seema’s needs even while handling a full-time job at Zerodha. Having spent over two decades together, they make it work.

“We have been dating since 2001 and have done tons of things together. So her mastectomy, just a physical aspect, doesn't bother me. We have learnt to make jokes,” adds Nithin. 

Seema and Nithin met at their first job at a call centre called Dial-M in Bengaluru. Seema moved to Singapore but they managed to hang on together. They got married in 2008 and 2011 she returned to India to join the two brothers at their stock broking venture Zerodha. Kiaan, Seema and Nithin’s son, was born in 2015. 

Powering through a crisis

Seema and Nithin admit that navigating the cancer treatments together further solidified their relationship. For instance, she recounts situations where the couple would have fights and give each other the silent treatment for days. Now, adds Seema, they have “discussions, not arguments”. 

“When we marry a person, a lot of us have a misconception that our partners will never change. But that is not the case, right? People change and we evolve together as partners. What matters to me is that Nithin has been there with me throughout my cancer journey, he is there when it matters,” adds Seema.    

Being in and out of hospitals, Nithin and Seema recognised the need to spread awareness about breast cancer. Nithin not just encouraged Seema to write about her diagnosis but also posted about it on his social media. That was something that attracted the necessary attention towards the illness and the need to break taboos.

“We decided to share our story and emphasise on the importance of being healthy and fit. Because that helps you bounce back faster from situations like these,” adds Seema. 

For those of you who don’t know, Seema is as much of a fitness freak as Nithin. Right now, she is on an extended break from her rigorous workout regime due to her surgeries. 

Together, Seema and Nithin are closely following the progress in medical technology, especially gene therapy. Mental health and access to therapists is another area that the couple is passionate about. 

“Life is a marathon and I need to finish it strong. If all of us here can survive the next 20 years, we will probably live for a very long time because of the tremendous progress in medical science,” says Nithin. 

Figuring out a path

There was a time when the life goals of Seema and Nithin were different. It was all about travelling and exploring the world. Money meant material possessions. Today, it is all about giving back to society. 

“Now, my happiness doesn't come from spending money. It comes from helping entrepreneurs or through social causes,” says Nithin. Through their non-profit organisation, Rainmatter Foundation, the couple is doing their bit at philanthropy. 

For Seema, however, the journey to rediscover her true passion is still in progress. Though she helped out the Kamath brothers in the initial stages of Zerodha, finance isn’t something that interests her.

Together with Nithin, she is on a path to identifying what to do next. Seema doesn’t have all the answers yet. But, from where she stands, the world looks brighter. “Everything in life seems like a little bonus right now,” she signs off.