Awareness is Empowering
Early Detection Leads to Cure
One person in India dies from cancer every 50 seconds! Hundreds of thousands more face surgery and years of treatment — driving a quarter of their households into poverty and making cancer the disease most likely to impoverish, according to the World Bank. Detecting cancer in stage one has almost a 90 percent chance of cure whereas it has an almost zero percent chance of cure in stage four. The key is to find cancer in its early stages and seek treatment immediately.
With such alarming and mind boggling estimates staring us right in the face, and the augury of things to come, the Cardiac Care Center, Khambhat strives to help women help themselves in detecting breast cancer at an earlier stage and steer them towards a liberation of healthy and tragedy free life. Women must take the initial steps towards learning signs of early detection by doing monthly breast self-examinations (BSE),eventually eradicating cancer from society.
Through the Cardiac Care Center (Khambhati Charity International, USA), I had the opportunity to create and execute the Breast Cancer Awareness project in Gujarat in January, 2011 to spread awareness, education and early detection of Breast Cancer to as many women as possible.
While visiting the Cardiac Care Center in January 2010, I was inspired and moved by the work of the hospital and decided that I wanted to do something for the women of Khambhat, the place of my roots.
After officially joining hands with Khambhati Charity International in June 2011, I started to brainstorm a variety of projects I could start. As destiny would have it, a NRI had recently donated a Siemen’s digital mammogram unit to the Center. Though the unit was a great addition to the hospital, it was not getting utilized regardless of the fact that it was the only machine within a 50 kilometer radius. I immediately saw the underutilization of this unit as an opportunity to raise awareness and educate Khambhat and the surrounding communities on breast cancer and the importance of annual mammograms. Most of the women in the area did not know the purpose or necessity of a mammogram. I focused my efforts on teaching women how to do monthly breast self -examinations (BSE). The Breast Cancer Awareness project took off in no time.
After visiting nearly 30 villages, organizations including Inner Will, Lioness Club, ONGC Women’s Organization, Bhagani Samaj, Giants group, Saheli Women’s Group, Nursing Schools and many girl’s high schools, I had educated over 2500 women on breast cancer. In addition to raising awareness about the disease, we also provided guidance to patient who found lumps and needed further diagnosis and proper treatment. After successfully completing so many visits in 2011, I wanted to increase the scale and scope of the project in the near future.
While contemplating how to best expand our work, I came across Roko (meaning ‘stop’) Cancer Charitable Trust, an organization based in Delhi that is committed to identifying and eliminating breast, cervical AND oral cancer. Roko has a professional team of doctors and nurses that travels to spread awareness and conduct examinations with their mobile cancer detection units. The mobile units are equipped to detect breast, cervical and oral cancer. This mobile unit would give us the opportunity to reach women who are often too busy and who cannot make the trip to Khambhat for mammograms.
Through the generous donations of a woman in Detroit, Michigan, we were able to begin planning a 6 day camp with Roko. The incredible team at the Cardiac Care Center managed everything that the Roko team needed to have a successful camp in January 2014. A big helping hand by our hospital founding doctor’s, Thakorbhai Rana and Bipinbhai Shah and secrataries, Milindbhai Shastri and D. K. Drivedi. We held camps in Undel, Ralej, Bhamanva, Fatepur Chokdi, Tarapur and finally in Khambhat inviting individuals from villages all around to attend the camp.
We saw a total of 650-700 patients over the course of 6 days with each case different from the next. We saw several unusual oral cancer cases (largely a result of tobacco chewing and smoking in the Charotar region) as well as unique cases in cervical and breast cancer. One 60 year old woman came in for a pap smear, due to cervical bleeding, pap smear couldn’t be performed and Dr. Vinodbhai Rawal, a well-known gynecologist from Khambhat, examined her and said she has all the symptoms of cervical cancer. He referred her to Muni Seva Ashram in Goraj, a service hospital known for its cancer facilities, for further tests.
Bhawna Singhal, an oral cancer specialist, with Roko, examined one particular woman who chewed tobacco through her pregnancy and did not care about the child nor her health and now was going through treatment for oral cancer. We saw many sad stories just like this one because of a lack of awareness and education in the community.
Patients poured out in Ralej, a village with the sacred temple of Sikotar Mataji. Dr. Bipinbhai Shah, one of Cardiac Care Center’s founding doctors was assisting Dr. Bhawna with countless oral cancer cases. One young man of age 24 had lost his entire bottom lip to cancer, going through treatment and came in for dressing. Tobacco use accounts for majority of oral cancers. Awareness and education is so important and necessary for early detection.
Dr. Mahek Verma, a breast cancer specialist from Roko, examined many new patients and saw many existing breast cancer patients. One woman’s entire one breast was red, swollen and she was in denial that there was something wrong. Another woman whose breast was very much infected with pus and blood and was swollen, was neglecting receiving care. Regardless of education about the disease itself, many women are ignorant when it comes to taking care of their health, and especially with something as deadly as cancer.
Though I can only reach a fraction of the people in Gujarat on an annual basis, my aim is to educate as many people as possible and bring awareness to men and women on various different cancers so they can identify warning signs at an early stage and survive.
As a community of human beings, we must emerge like a bird in the sky to save precious lives by never ending the crusade against breast cancer, so that no woman or man should have to go through anguish and ignominy due to sheer ignorance and lack of awareness. Even a tiny step is a like a big leap when it comes to cancer, if we are able to save a single life through our effort.