Seventeen years after his death, the loss of her son to cancer brings tears to Neera Rao’s eyes.

Her husband Prabhakar Krishna Rao and she live with the aim to spread as much information as they can about cancer to anyone who cares to listen.

The couple is now doing the rounds of hospitals in Chennai trying to find doctors who will understand their role.

Irreplaceable loss

Their son died in the prime of his life, leaving behind a young wife and a toddler son. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and within five months, died of it, much to the shock of doctors who predicted that he would survive.

In his memory, Mrs. and Mr. Rao set up a non-governmental organisation, investing all their earnings in it. The Mumbai-based couple used their funds and expertise to develop Jeet Association for Support to Cancer Patients.

It has been a difficult task to make even oncologists listen to their suggestions, they say.

“Doctors in India do not have the time to talk to patients. I don’t blame them. At the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, doctors see a hundred patients every day. Where will they find the time to speak to each of them?” says Mr. Rao, a textile technologist.

The couple has been publishing books on various types of cancer and nutritious food and selling them at a nominal cost at the support centre. They have sold over two lakh books netting Rs. 40 lakh. The money has helped fund treatment of over 1,200 patients at a cost of Rs. 80 lakh.

Coping with the disease

“We target only those hospitals that treat cancers,” Mr. Rao says. “There are so many questions they want to ask. The doctor may say it is secondary cancer but the patient may think of it as ‘second stage’. We explain to patients and their families what the doctor has said and the kind of treatment that has been advised. We act as a bridge between doctors and patients,” he says.

Their efforts at educating patients and their families paid off when the Tata Memorial Centre offered them a small space to meet with patients after they emerged from doctors’ rooms. Their personal experience helps them empathise with the patient.

“I am a non-medical person and I tell the patient that I cannot play doctor. I cannot tell a patient if treatment will be successful but I can lend support by educating the patient,” he says.

They are also looking for volunteers who can translate their books into Tamil. “We do not want to sell our publications through bookstores. We will sell them only in organisations dedicated to treating cancers,” Mr. Rao says.

The NGO has a band of volunteers, including the Raos’ daughter in Bangalore, who is taking forward the message.

Incidentally, this year’s theme for World Cancer Day that will be observed on Monday is dispelling myths about cancer. Madras Medical College organised a rally on Sunday and Vasantha Memorial Trust, an organisation headed by an oncologist, held a painting contest for schoolchildren to spread awareness about the illness.

More In: Chennai