Waging a war with allies called love & will power
Last few months, I have been watching my friend’s mother dealing admirably with various setbacks and challenges. Lying in bed, as she fights with grit and determination, one sees this menacing disease, afflicting one organ and system after another, even as her doctor daughter and son-in-law are taking exemplary care, trying almost everything and anything possible under the sun to give her comfort, relief and cure. What strikes me the most when I see her each time is the warm smile that has remained her constant companion as her no-holds-barred battle with cancer wages in full swing.
Incidence of cancer in India would touch 1.7 million by 2035, according to Lancet. A million new cancer cases are diagnosed every year, which is only about a quarter of the diagnosed cases in western Europe. Yet, the 6-7 lakh cancer deaths in 2012 are comparable to the mortality rates in high-income countries, which is indicative of the low early detection rates coupled with poor treatment outcomes. Of all the cancers among women in India, breast cancer accounts for 25% and is the second most common cancer. Factors like fast-paced lives, delayed reproductive activity, high hormone levels, obesity and lack of physical work are cited as causing it.
While on breast cancer, the name of Ananda Shankar Jayant immediately comes to my mind. A top classical dancer of the country and senior railway officer, she is a vivacious yet warm human being. Diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, the initial shock and anger at the disease having caught her, gave way to a spirited and determined fight. A bold, spirited fight against cancer with her enduring passion and love of dance made the difference. The typical response to the disease ranges from a hands down surrender to a relentless, determined fight, no matter what! Dance was the warrior and weapon that Ananda bravely wielded to conquer cancer. She bounced back with her dance and is today a role model for many. One of the most inspiring persons that I have ever met, she is full of energy and commitment, folding in a lot into her packed day, which starts in the wee hours of the morning. As she elegantly juggles her many roles of an officer, dancer, motivational speaker, dance guru, excellent homemaker, wife and daughter-in-law, she is, indeed, a pride of India and the world.
About 50,000 women die of breast cancer annually in India. While these details are daunting, seeing people like Ananda battle and conquer it unconventionally is a great lesson to be shared with all. Simultaneously, there is a need for greater awareness of cancer, its early detection and treatment across the country, especially in schools, colleges and other places to reach all.
Cancer treatment has scaled great heights today with precision in targeted medicine, surgery and radiotherapy. This has refined surgical treatment and near absence of the horrific nausea that chemotherapy entailed earlier on. People, including patients are now more openly talking and sharing about cancer. Newer drugs target the tumor’s biology, making them less toxic but more effective. Doctors and health professionals working with cancer patients are some of the best human beings one ever meets and even people with advanced cancer today live much longer, with a very good quality of life.
Just last week, as I sat next to my friend’s mother, now frail and weak, her glowing face, shining eyes and smile radiated the same light that the ‘tukkals’ or Japanese lanterns in the sky shone with later that evening. In this fight too, love, will power and positivity are our most powerful allies.
The author is Harvard educated civil servant & writer, and has worked in education sector
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