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They Beat Cancer, Now Help Others Conquer It

Cancer survivors – turned – counselors are making a huge difference to patients across city hospitals

Cancer patients from several Mumbai hospitals, including the Tata Memorial Centre, Breach Candy, Saifee and Hinduja have been frequenting Byculla’s Prince Aly Khan Hospital, where a team of cancer survivors encourage and guide them.

The cancer rehabilitation centre at the hospital is handled by a team of 20 volunteers, of which 12 are cancer survivors. They share with the patients how they handled the side effects of medicines, the chemotherapy sessions and the resultant hair loss, how they overcame the stigma of wearing a wig and the prosthesis, and the feel good food and exercises post chemo.

For the last 18 years, Dadar resident Anita Vesuvala has been visiting the centre every Tuesday and Friday. Anyone who’s spent even a week in hospital will tell you that he/she wouldn’t want to see one ever again, but Vesuvala, 59, who underwent treatment for breast cancer 20 years ago, decided to help others battling the ailment.

Since 1994, when Vesuvala became the first volunteer to counsel cancer patientsat the Prince Aly Khan Hospital, her team has been steadily growing, and is able to spend several hours at least twice a week, during which each volunteer meets three to four patients a day.

Forthepatients,it’sanopportunity to discuss things that they would hesitate to ask a doctor. Said Sanjana Verma, a 50–year–old school teacher from Gwalior, "I was so anxious, had somanyquestions…I’msofortunate to have found a team of cancer survivors who are willing to address all my queries."

For the last 18 years, Anita Vesuvala, a breast cancer survivor, has been visiting the centre twice a week. The centre is the brainchild of oncosurgeon Dr Sultan PradhanFor the last 18 years, Anita Vesuvala, a breast cancer survivor, has been visiting the centre twice a week. The centre is the brainchild of oncosurgeon Dr Sultan Pradhan

Verma underwent mastectomy (removal of left breast)in August, and is coming to terms with wearing a wig.

Last Friday, she tried out several wigs suggested by the volunteers,and eventually settled for the one that reached her waist. "Now I can tie it in a bun and look normal, just like before," she said.

Vesuvala said that a meeting with a breast cancer survivor convinced her to become a volunteer herself. "I was shattered when I was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago. I was young, my children were small and the only question I kept asking was why me?" Vesuvala recalled.

The centre, a brainchild of oncosurgeon Dr Sultan Pradhan, also came up in 1994. "The doctors can’t have the depthof understanding that women who have dealt with this disease possess. Also, women find it easierto open upto other women,"Pradhan said.

The Tata Memorial Centre in Parel, easily India’s busiest cancer hospital, got a volunteer–counselor in 2005, when breast cancer survivor Mamata Goenka offered help. She has devised a post – surgery kit – distributed free of costs – which consists of a sling bag designed to accommodate the drainage device, a cushion for arm care, and an 80–cm long scarf to cover the head, besides a manual listing exercises.

Goenka, who was diagnosed with cancer twice, said: "After the breast cancer surgery, an external drainage device is attached to the patients, which is extremely tedious to carry. As the lymph nodes are removed, patients feel discomfort in the underarm area, and there is hair loss due to chemotherapy. These could lead to severe depression."

She conducts post–operative sessions at Tata Memorial Centre thrice aweek,where the kits designed by her are distributed.

Seventy–year–old Rehmat Memdani from Thane, who underwent mastectomy last week, said that only acancer survivor could have come up with such kit.

"I was very uncomfortable walking around holding the drain. With thes ling bag,itiseasy.The volunteers have also given me apros thes is which I can wear and look normal as before," she said.

BEYOND BREAST CANCER

While most volunteers are engaged in breast cancer counseling, there’s Pradip Lahiri, a laryngeal cancer survivor who trains patients in esophageal speech (a method of speech production through oscillation of the esophagus).

Lahiri, who had lost his vocal cords post surgery, said he loves his new voice because he created it. Recently, he travelled to Tokyo, where he underwent an advanced esophageal speech therapy course. He now trains others at the Prince Aly Khan Hospital since 1998, and patients from several hospitals are being referred to him.

Source
Times of India
25 October 2013,
By - Jyoti Shelar

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