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Surviving cancer to build a community of Sanjeevani angels

Urvashi Valecha | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 27, 2017

Sanjeevani founder Ruby Ahluwalia

An onco-care course gives survivors a chance to be vocationally rehabilitated

Tata Memorial Hospital’s Out-Patient Department is bustling with patients waiting since morning for chemotherapy, others queue up to meet the doctors. But in a corner surrounding a small table and chair, another crowd of cancer patients surround Archana, known in these corridors as a Sanjeevani Angel.

Calling out to a cancer patient as “ maooshi” (‘aunty’ in Marathi), Archana enquires about her diet. “I eat jowari roti and drink a lot of milk,” maooshi responds, only to be told by Archana, a cancer survivor herself and now counsellor, that “milk is typically available only when the cow is lactating, it has a season; but milk now is available throughout the year, which is not natural. Avoid it when you’re on chemo.”

Elsewhere in the bustling OPD, Ria consoles Nazma Khan, a mother of three, as she bursts into tears waiting for consultation. “My 13-year-old takes care of the 10-month-old. My kids had to give up education because we don’t have the funds for my treatment.”

A uterine cancer survivor herself, Ria slowly builds up some trust with Nazma and then explains to her the side-effects of chemo, the procedure to schedule radiation sessions and how to keep the mind stress-free through all of this. Nazma stops crying and listens with a bittersweet smile.

Archana, Ria, Vishaka and Anuragini spend almost six hours every day at Tata Memorial as a part of their psychosocial handholding programme. “We have been trained in counselling through the onco-caregiving course,” says Archana.

The onco-care course is run by Sanjeevani with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) where cancer survivors are taught the human anatomy, psychology and counselling, making them fit to work not only for Sanjeevani but other such organisations as well.

Archana explains how often cancer patients lose their jobs during their treatment since they are unable to give time to work. This is why the onco-care course gives the survivors a chance to rehabilitate and gain independence. “Other NGOs also come for placements,” she says, adding, “doing what I do has given me an identity, I feel more than just a cancer survivor.”

For Ruby Ahluwalia, breast cancer survivor and founder of Sanjeevani - Life beyond cancer, the steps taken by the Sanjeevani angels is one step closer to her mission of building a large community of cancer survivors who can counsel others going through the same journey.

A psychosocial handholding programme provides cancer patients not only emotional support but gives them all the other information they seek, she explains. The programme also acquaints patients with the wellness programme Sanjeevani hosts at its centres. “You try and not hurt your inner being because of the physical pain you are going through,” says Alhuwalia.

With centres in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Jaipur, Bikaner, Wardha and Kolkata, the one-month programme puts patients through courses of yoga and psychotherapy, besides offering suggestions on nutrition. It is empowering, says Alhuwalia, adding that the mission is to be present in every State’s Regional Cancer Centre.

The writer is an intern with Businessline

Published on October 27, 2017
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