It was the toughest race of all. Last year, a month-and-a-half after she finished the Vagamon ultra trail marathon (62 km) and a few weeks after Bangalore Oxfam (100 km), Rajini Nair, an ultra-marathon runner, dancer, and an avid biker was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But no way was she going to be cowed down. Nor did her running stop.
“What kept me going through my chemo sessions was running, yoga, meditation, and music,” she recollected.
Being an athlete helped her. The stories of resilient athletes like Novlene Williams-Mills, Karen Newman, Jen Hanks and Lance Armstrong infused in her the strength to fight. Needless to say, her family and friends surrounded her with support.
“I was also glad that I was in the hands of Dr Amit Rauthan and Dr Shabber Zaveri. They did not leave anything to chance and did everything as per schedule. It was because of them that I did not have any complications,” she said.
As one stands on the threshold of World Cancer Day (Feb 4), survivors like Rajini shine as beacons of strength.
Salil Jain, a survivor, has been guiding cancer patients to get the right treatment, go through it and get post-treatment care.
For the last eight years, he has been making their cancer journey easier.
“Cancer treatment suffered a lot after Covid-19 broke out,” Salil said. “It was tough, both for the patients and the doctors. Testing got pushed back. A whole lot of surgeries had to be postponed unless it was urgent.”
“Every patient had to be tested for Covid-19. The patients too did not want to come to hospitals. Doctors had to take decisions after case-to-case study since a delay in cancer treatment can lead to adverse outcomes,” Salil added.
Every day, Salil goes to a reputed hospital to help out cancer patients. “Things are getting better and now it’s easier for doctors to adhere to standard protocols,” he said. Stressing on the fact that the incidents of cancer are on the rise, he said that the projection is that cancer cases will keep on rising aided by current lifestyle, environment, and food habits. “Fortunately, due to advancements in treatment, the number of survivors is also increasing. The role of post-treatment care is gaining importance to reduce chances of recurrence and to bounce back to normal life,” Salil said.
“To take care of the interests of cancer survivors we have launched the Cancer Survivors’ Association,” he informed.
Covid has been clearly a big whammy for cancer patients, Kanchan Bannerjee, Honorary Secretary, Indian Cancer Society said.
She said the ICS has a helpline to connect the patients to oncologists over the phone. “This includes emotional counselling for cancer patients and caregivers.’’
With cases on the rise, increasing awareness on cancer, allaying fears, the need for early detection and treatment, and adopting healthy lifestyle choices can never be emphasised enough. “Creating awareness is not easy,” Kanchan said. “When cancer happens, there is the denial. It is a challenge to battle the psychological barriers.”
Kishore Rao, chairman, Indian Cancer Society, Karnataka and Karunashraya - Bangalore Hospice Trust, explained that “in the field of cancer work in Bengaluru, there is a very distinct role for NGOs, or voluntary organisations like the Indian Cancer Society to play to assist people afflicted with cancer.”
He splits cancer work into three baskets — “Spreading awareness about cancer, doing early screening camps, and rendering emotional support to patients and their families. In the event of a person being diagnosed with cancer, there is a distinct role for doctors and hospitals to play in the curative attempts,” he said.
“This is very specialised work and is to be done only by suitably qualified people and there is no scope for NGOs and voluntary organisations in this. After the treatment is completed and there is no more curative scope for medical science to play, then palliative care takes over,” he added.
Often, the cost of cancer treatment stops people from going for investigations and treatment.
“Although there are government schemes, it takes a lot of paperwork. There are some hospitals that provide treatment at a reduced cost,” Kanchan informed.
She explained that they have been creating a Bridge Fund for the patients of hospitals with which they have signed an MoU.
“We give an initial amount of Rs 25,000 to start the treatment. And then help the patient get access to government funds through their hospital. There is also the Cancer Care Fund,” Kanchan said.
“We, the educated should try and talk to people within our environment and create awareness among them. What we need to make people understand is that cancer is not a curse,” she said. As life returns to the new normal, Rajini Nair is back to her routine — doing what she likes the most. On Republic Day, she did a 10-km run.
(Cancer helplines: Indian Cancer Society 08047182786; Cancer Survivors’ Association: 9886300676.)