Deepan Kumar, a 24-year-old aspiring dentist, is quite happy with his life when he compares it to his condition 10 years ago when he was suffering from Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. Doctors in government and private hospitals had suggested leg amputation as the only solution. At the brink of desperation, he had approached the Cancer Institute in Chennai where he had been offered bone marrow transplantation as one of the options. Today, completely cancer-free and with his recently-acquired degree in Bachelor of Dental Surgery, Deepan hopes to complete his postgraduation in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and go on to be a successful dentist.
Deepan, along with a thousand others with similar stories had gathered at centres set up in four districts in Tamil Nadu by the Cancer institute on Sunday to mark their victory of having conquered different forms of cancer.
The Cancer Institute celebrated the Annual Reunion Day which brought together survivors of cancer from across all ages from all over India. At the event, the institute had set up video conferencing with about 1,150 survivors of cancer who had assembled at centres in Chennai, Vijayawada, Madurai and Thanjavur set up by the institute. So far, the institute has performed a total of 30 transplants and currently, over 430 patients are admitted at the facility along with other day care patients and outpatients receiving treatment by surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
A panel of oncologists told the media that the cancer institute has been trying to make treatment for cancer, especially for children, at least affordable, if not free. Average cost for treating a patient suffering from lymphoma is around Rs. 5 lakh. The institute has been trying to get medications at subsidised rates for most of the patients. According to Venkatraman Radhakrishnan, an oncologist working at the Cancer institute, up to 70 % of cancer patients at the institute are treated free of cost.
The panel stressed on promotion of bone marrow transplants at an affordable cost along with the need to build an unrelated donor registry along with the possible alternative of cord blood. Emphasising on how crucial bone marrow transplantation can be, the panel of oncologists explained the utility of a national-level registry. Referring to the National Marrow Donor Program available in the United States, Dr. Radhakrishnan said, “Unlike the United States, India is genetically very heterogeneous. It is therefore very difficult to find a match with someone who is unrelated to the patient. It will therefore be very helpful to have a national level registry.”
The event at the institute brought together survivors from not only the State but also from across the country. Prem Upadhyay, a 65 year-old, retired school teacher from Lakhimpur district of Assam, who previously suffered from throat cancer. After suffering for four years, a doctor in his hometown told him about the Cancer Institute in Chennai. Eighteen years later, with the help of radiation, today he is cancer-free and comes to Chennai once a year for his routine review. Oncologists, to monitor their patients for possible relapse, insist that they continue to come for routine reviews monthly, every three months and annually depending on their recovery.
Oncologists and other members of administration pointed out that it was important that the government take measures to spread awareness of the disease including information about vaccinations and adapting to a healthier lifestyle. E. Vidhubala, a psycho oncologist affiliated with the cancer institute, promoting the cause of the event said, “Every government hospital has a cancer unit, but the facilities need to be streamlined and specialised treatment must be made available. Awareness needs to be communicated to the people as many a time people delay in coming into the hospital and therefore don't receive timely treatment.” Working around the theme of “Together it is possible,” the event was organised with the aim of reducing the incidence of cancer along with the problems society poses for cancer patients.