Daan Utsav: Rebuilding A Full, Rewarding Life After Cancer 

The mental well-being of those afflicted by cancer is paramount in them overcoming the disease.

(Image: Sanjeevani... Life Beyond Cancer)
(Image: Sanjeevani... Life Beyond Cancer)

Daan Utsav celebrates acts of giving, from October 2 to October 8. BloombergQuint brings you on-ground stories of change, from social sector leaders shaping them.

Asha K, a homemaker in her mid-forties, had moved out of Mumbai to a small town after marriage. Fifteen years later, her life changed. A minor fall at home accidentally revealed something more troubling. It turned out to be breast cancer.

Still coming to grips, Asha received another shock. Her husband and his family abandoned her.

Nowhere else to go, Asha returned to her parents’ home and began her treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital. Thinking that cancer is contagious, even her parents kept her personal belongings separate. A shattered Asha attempted suicide. Twice.

That’s when ‘Sanjeevani…Life Beyond Cancer’ came into her life. She met Archana, one of Sanjeevani’s angels, during her treatment.

Herself a cancer survivor like most angels, Archana understood her pain. She recommended a one-month 'wellness program’ run by its centre in Mumbai.

Asha says the warmth and support she received during the course changed her life. There were many like her who were left to fend for themselves by loved ones. That gave her a fresh perspective to life.

The sessions helped Asha understand cancer better, gave her a sense of belonging and restored her confidence. Gradually, her physical and mental health improved. Soon, she wanted to do something meaningful.

Asha completed the wellness program and signed up for ‘Sanjeevani’s Oncological Caregiving Course’ at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a course she says changed her life in more ways than one.

It demolished all the myths about cancer, taught her about the different forms of the disease, she says. Asha learned how caregivers could be better equipped to help patients manage their illness. Moreover, the people she met during the course became close friends and bonded like a family.

Asha felt like she was back in school – happy, and carefree. A field visit to the Borges Memorial Home in Bandra East is still fresh in her memory. I met a terminally ill eight-year-old boy and a young man who lived a carefree life despite knowing that the end was near. They inspired her.

Today, Asha thanks this journey for giving her life a whole new meaning.

She now lives by herself in a Mumbai suburb in a small apartment gifted by a friend. Her bond with parents and the extended family is much stronger. The new friends she made at the wellness centre and TISS are protective and caring. She feels positive and at peace.

Asha intends to use her experience to support others. Medical science only treats the physical symptoms of the disease, not the emotional. That’s where organisations like Sanjeevani play an important role.

Asha, who runs a small beauty parlour and teaches children, is looking for a full-time role as an oncology caregiver.

Sanjeevani was founded in 2012 for prevention and early detection of cancer and for providing care, counselling and rehabilitation to people fighting the disease.

It believes that holistic care goes beyond medical treatment, and the mental well-being of those afflicted by the cancer is paramount to help them overcome the disease and live a healthy and happy life.

In its years of existence, Sanjeevani has impacted the lives of nearly 50,000 cancer patients and has a presence at 9 regional cancer hospitals, educating underprivileged and less fortunate individuals to successfully navigate their lives and overcome challenges in dealing with the effects of cancer through its programs.

Sanjeevani’s dream is to work in at least one city of every state in the next five years and ensure that cancer patients see this journey as an opportunity to live more meaningful lives rather than a catastrophic experience.

(Asha's real name has been withheld to protect her identity)

Ruby Ahluwalia is the founder of Sanjeevani... Life Beyond Cancer.

The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.