World Rose Day is celebrated on September 22 every year in memory of 12-year-old Melinda Rose from Canada, who was diagnosed with Askin’s Tumour, a rare type of blood cancer. But Melinda did not give up hope till her last breath. World Rose Day is dedicated to cancer patients all over the world, with the aim of instilling hope and happiness into their minds, encouraging them to fight the battle against cancer bravely.
Talking about the same, Consultant Clinical Oncologist Dr Shankar Kumar Nath told The CSR Journal, “There is no reason to think that I have cancer so I am going to die, especially in the present time. There are almost 200 kinds of cancer across the globe. Treatment for at least one-third of these is very limited, so patients survive from six months to one year. Medical science has found treatment for another one-third kind of cancer, in which the patient survives up to 10-15 years, for another one-third, the patient is completely cured and no matter how long they live, they will not die of cancer.”
“So cancer does not necessarily mean death sentence. Also, if you are diagnosed early, then you will get cured and can live long. Also, medical science has found ways in which a cancer patient’s pain can be considerably reduced,” he added.
Free diagnosis and counselling for cancer patients
Dr Nath runs a social welfare organization named Oncolink in Kolkata, which has been providing free diagnosis and counseling to the patients and their families since 1996. Since treatment of cancer is institutional, Oncolink refers the patients to the member and friend oncologists at different government hospitals.
Low cost temporary accommodation
Oncolink in association with Bharat Sevashram Sangha runs Niramoy Bhavan. Located in Kolkata’s Tollygunje, this is a temporary accommodation for cancer patients under treatment in various government hospitals, at nominal cost with in-house capacity of 25 patients along with one of their family members.
Free palliative care hospital
As a social organization Oncolink has come forward, challenging the established norms of curative hospital, to provide this care and facility to the patients when curative treatment is no longer beneficial to them. Running since 2016, the idea of community based Oncolink Palliative Care Hospital has been designed on the ashramite concept, away from the bustle of the city life. It is located in Madanpur, Nadia district, West Bengal.
Inspiration behind Oncolink
“When we started, at that time middle class and backward people actually had to sell off their house and other properties in order to pay for cancer treatment. Cancer treatment has two different parts. One is curative, where the disease is completely cured. The other one is palliative, which applies to cancer patients who are beyond recovery. The attempt is to reduce their pain like stopping bleeding, providing oxygen during breathing problems or providing temporary relief from pain, that is, trying to give them a comfortable life for their limited number of days. This is called palliative treatment,” informed the doctor.
Cancer awareness programs
“We conduct different kinds of cancer awareness programs through posters, pictures, lectures and powerpoint presentations in different parts of the state. This is how Oncolink works. Earlier, we used to provide chemotherapy medicines to the patients, but now that is not required because the state government has made this treatment totally free,” he added.
Common forms of cancer among men and women
Throwing light on the most common forms of cancer appearing in men and women, Dr Nath shared, “Cervical cancer (the lower part of the uterus is called cervix) is the most common form of cancer among Indian women, followed by breast cancer. Our team travels to rural areas within West Bengal to test women for possibilities of cervical cancer in their body. Women who show symptoms are brought to our centre for treatment. Similarly, among men, the most common forms of cancer are oral cavity cancer and prostate cancer, the latter is increasing among men above 50 years. Most of these are caused by lifestyle, especially consumption of red meat, alcohol, pan masala and cigarettes.”
Why cancer patients don’t turn up for treatment
“Some people don’t come for treatment either due to ignorance or out of fear that they will go bald after chemotherapy. Also, a lot of people with cancer were afraid to come to the doctor due to myths and stigma associated with the disease. Unfortunately, our socio-economic structure is such that people like farmers and daily wage earners fear that they will not be able to earn a living during the months spent for treatment, hence a lot of them skip it. Till date, almost 40 percent of people who have cancer don’t turn up for treatment,” the Oncolink founder expressed with a sigh.
Cancer and its warning signs
Dr Nath also informed about the warning signs of cancer. He said, “Cancer is called ‘silent killer’ because most kinds of cancer, especially those appearing in the stomach come without triggering a warning in the body. However, there are various kinds of cancer, which do give a warning signal to the body. For example, if you are bleeding from your nose or have a hoarseness of voice for a prolonged period, please visit an E.N.T specialist because these might be symptoms of cancer.”
“Similarly, bleeding from the rectum is not always piles, it can be rectal cancer, nagging cough for several months can be a warning signal for tumor in the lungs, bleeding in between two menstrual cycles or years after menopause can be a sign of cervical cancer, a lump in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer. This kind of awareness is lacking among common people,” he added.
Is cancer genetic
Many people ask, is cancer genetic? Answering that, the oncologist explained, “We have not been able to fully establish that cancer is genetic. In case of breast cancer, BRCA1 (Breast Cancer gene 1) and BRCA 2 (Breast Cancer gene 2) these two genes prevent us from cancer. But if these genes undergo mutation, then there can be a risk. So, if the mother has breast cancer, in the daughter, if BRCA1 undergoes mutation, then there is a 5 percent chance that she can get breast cancer.”
Is cancer contagious
“Cancer is generally not contagious. If you eat from the same plate with a cancer patient, touch or hold them, if he or she breathes or coughs in front of you. But two kinds of cancer, one of which appears in the stomach caused by a bacteria H. pylori can be contagious and cervical cancer caused by HPV or Human Papillomavirus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, especially if a person has multiple partners. But I will again say that 99 percent cancer is not contagious, even though there is a myth that every kind of cancer is contagious,” replied the doctor.
Myths surrounding cancer
Dr Nath signed off throwing light on the kinds of misconceptions and fear associated with cancer. He said, “If I am injured or wounded, cancer will suddenly start growing in my body due to that injury or wound; breast cancer appears only in women, it never affects men; biopsy or surgery helps cancer cells spread; I am having cancer so I am going to die, consuming sugar or sweeteners will cause cancer— these are some of the most common myths surrounding cancer.”