November 7, 2022, National Cancer Awareness Day. Warriors & Volunteers vanquishing the ‘C’ Factor
In India, nearly 1.1 million new cases of cancer are reported annually. According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. National Cancer Awareness Day has been observed on November 7 for the last eight years on the birth anniversary of the Nobel-prize-winning French- Polish Scientist Madame Curie renowned for her work in the field of radioactivity.
This day marks the significance of promoting awareness about the diagnosis, treatment, and early detection of the disease. According to WHO, approximately 70 per cent of deaths from cancer occur in low and middle-income countries.
Delay in seeking healthcare
Reports and data indicate that delayed diagnosis is the most significant predicament contributing to the mounting criticality in cancer cases. In India, nearly 60 per cent of Breast Cancer cases are diagnosed at stage III or IV of the disease. It also indicates how women put their concerns and medical problems on the back burner, all pointing out to lack of awareness and issues related to women’s empowerment.
Other factors contributing to the late presentation include a lack of awareness about the disease, especially in rural areas, and not denying the long, expensive treatment, which burns a hole in the pocket. However, this grim situation has slowly started to change due to various awareness campaigns, and people have slowly begun to understand and value their health. Another deterring factor in seeking early care is the stigma of social embarrassment and isolation. Surprisingly, data also indicates that individuals with influencing backgrounds, public figures, and celebrities diagnosed with cancer are not forthcoming to talk about the disease; they are hesitant to disclose it publicly. The fear of losing business or opportunities keeps them shut. Radhika Khosla Manaktala, a cancer survivor and a volunteer in support groups, finds this a significant barrier to spreading cancer awareness.
“We want public figures, doctors, and celebrities to come forward and talk about their journey and treatment of cancer. It’s time not to stay isolated or sequester the patient; on the contrary patient and the caregivers require support and compassion. When real-life stories are shared, it increases motivation among cancer warriors to go through the ordeal,” adds Radhika.
Breast Cancer Awareness
Women diagnosed with breast cancer suffer mentally, emotionally, physically and financially; more so, women not only fear death and contagion by cancer but also fear that their reputation, including that of their family, would get malice. “They fear if people knew of their cancer diagnosis, including potential difficulties in their daughter’s wedding. It is also a widespread assumption that cancer, especially in the private parts (breast and genitals), is linked to “immoral behaviour.” It’s all a myth and needs to change. The issue of social stigma urgently needs to be addressed through awareness campaigns, as it jeopardises not only early diagnosis but also the treatment-seeking behaviour of women with symptoms of breast cancer, said Dr Rajeev Agarwal, the chief surgical oncologist at Medanta Hospital Gurugram.
Compassion & Volunteers
For women, during cancer treatment, the loss of their hair can be a tremendous setback. There are volunteers, samaritans, who step forward to donate their hair to make the wigs for the cancer warriors. Rajni Chopra, a samaritan from Gurugram, recently donated her lustrous locks for an illustrious cause. “Long hair is considered indispensable to classic Indian beauty regardless of class or caste distinction. I know how terrible women feel when they lose their hair to the deadly disease, their trauma multiplies. I chanced upon reports of people who donated their hair and how these gestures have helped bring smiles to the faces of cancer patients. Then a friend donated her hair, which greatly inspired and motivated me to do the same. Natural hair is used to make wigs for patients who have shed their hair during the treatment. I want more and more people to come forward to make donate their hair. It surely would go a long way in spreading smiles; it shall support them in regaining a positive body image. The gesture has humbled me, given me immense satisfaction and got me closer to my higher self.”
“You can be a victim of cancer or a survivor of cancer. It’s a mindset.” Dave Pelzer.