The number of people conquering cancer is rising. It might surprise many to know that more than 4,000 patients, young and old, treated at the Cancer Institute (WIA), Chennai, for different cancers, have lived a normal life for more than 20 years after treatment! The chart depicts the success story of two of the most common cancers afflicting women.
Reminiscing about the events of the last five-and-a-half decades of my journey with cancer, there have been periods of joy, hope, sorrow, frustration and many more. Joy, when you cure and convey hope in the background of phenomenal advances over the years, sorrow when you fail and frustration when obstacles are created for unknown reasons.
Down memory lane, I remember Padmaja, 22, a bright girl, who was a Research Fellow in the physics department at IIT-Madras. She came with unaccounted fever and a diagnosis of acute leukaemia was made (1987).
With scientific management and the newly available chemotherapeutic drugs, she achieved a complete remission and remained so. She continued her studies and took her doctorate.
Five years later, in 1992, she asked me: “Can I go abroad for higher studies”? I said: “Why not”? She queried: “What about my follow up”? I said: “you don’t need any, except occasional checks. You are cured.” She was delighted. She applied for a Commonwealth fellowship and was duly selected. But then came the bombshell — the medical board rejected her on health grounds. She came running to me. “Madam, you told me I was cured but see what has happened.” I was furious. That was the perception of cancer then in India. Since I could not convince the local office, I wrote to Dr. Ray Powles, Head of the Department of Leukaemia at the Royal Marsden Hospital, requesting his intervention. After a few consultations with the U.K. Commonwealth authorities, Dr. Padmaja’s fellowship was cleared. She went to the U.K. and completed her fellowship. She married a colleague and has settled down in the U.S. since 1997. She is happily married with children, in addition to doing academic work.
There are a number of interesting episodes — Dilli Rao, 26, was treated for acute leukaemia. He came from a mid-income family and needed support.
During treatment for leukaemia, there are phases when the patient is given oral medications at home. Rao swallowed at one time what was meant for 15 days and reported to the Institute as a medical emergency. Asked why he did that, despite written instructions, he said: “I wanted to get well soon!” We tided over the emergency with great difficulty.
Today, Dilli Rao is a successful small scale business man, happily married and has two sons. He participates in the survivor day at the Cancer Institute every year with his family and makes a regular contribution to the institute.
A pretty child Rasheeda was treated when she was just four years old in 1994. Now 22, she is waiting to get married. I can never forget her face.
Whatever the joy, we need to pause and ponder:
— How many have access to affordable and equitable treatment?
— Insurance for cancer treatment is an urgent need.
The trend analysis of survivors with breast and uterine cervical cancers demonstrates the increasing number of survivors.