Surviving cancer and spreading awareness

Defying all odds, they have stood up against the trauma of cancer. Their grit to take on the life-threatening disease remains matchless. This World Cancer Day, let’s spare a thought for the survivors who inspire us all not to give up come what may; those victors who defeat death and keep on moving in life.

Last year in July, the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre, New Delhi, had organised a ‘Survivors Meet’ for breast cancer and head and neck cancer patients. My interaction with them revealed that they are the real fighters and are successful in their careers as well. They continue to work and remain employed during illness and return to work soon.

They value their interactions with others. A cancer survivor replied: “Diamond cannot be polished without friction. Gold cannot be purified without fire. Good people go through trials and may suffer, but with experience. their life becomes better and not bitter.”

I said: “You mean to say such an experience is useful.” The cancer survivor replied: “Yes, certainly yes. Experience is a hard teacher. Life gives the test first and the lessons afterwards.” The survivors admit that they have changed in their approach, attitude and character after this disease.

They can be both serious and playful, shy and aggressive, logical and intuitive. They become paradoxical people and are more flexible than most others. They clean up messes and make things safer and more efficient. After the completion of treatment, the survivor reaches synergistic level of functioning and maturity. She develops empathy for other people and keeps a positive outlook and stands tall with confidence during adversity.

Count blessings

Such people have a feeling of getting smarter and enjoy life more as they get older. They like to take risks and experiment with their own life. I asked one of the survivors: “How do you stay motivated in tough times?” He said: “Always look at how far you have come rather than how far you have to go. Always count your blessings, not what you are missing.”
One gender difference I found in these survivors is that women tend to understand realities better than men. Women are more used to accepting and working with their emotions, whilst men’s lives tend to revolve around their work.

One of the patients questioned in the ‘Open Forum Session’ on how can he get the best out of life? The survivor sitting on the dais replied: “Face your past without regret. Handle your present with confidence. Prepare for the future without fear. Life is wonderful if you know how to live.”

No doubt, cancer has profound social and economic consequences for the people facing the dreaded disease. It leads to family impoverishment and societal inequity.

An estimate says that over 10 lakh new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year in India with a population of over 1.2 billion. Deaths are also on higher side. A major chunk of cancer cases are associated with tobacco use and other avoidable causes. Expanding health facilities and increasing awareness will play a key role in dealing with the cancer menace.

In 2010, the Central government launched a comprehensive National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke (NPCDCS) with a focus on three sites of cancer, namely, breast, cervical and oral.
From 2013-14 onwards, interventions under the programme for prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, which can be taken up till the district level, have been brought under the umbrella of the National Health Mission (NHM). The treatment of cancer patients in various government hospitals is either free or subsidised, both in the Central and state government hospitals.

Private hospitals also provide quality healthcare to cancer patients and even offer concessions to those from weaker sections of the society. It is our collective responsibility to deal with the menace of cancer, and this will be possible only when we go in for early detection. The spread of awareness is paramount here and survivors can play a big role in this.

(The writer is Medical Director, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre, New Delhi)

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