Living With Cancer: Why Psychosocial Care is So Important
India is likely to have over 17.3 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020.
India is likely to have over 17.3 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020. (Photo: iStock)

Living With Cancer: Why Psychosocial Care is So Important

We all fear it, many have already been affected by it and many of us have to face it, when you or someone you love is diagnosed with the one of the most difficult diseases to cure in the modern world. Yes, it’s cancer. And the number of new cases is projected to rise by about 70 percent over the next two decades.

It’s agonizing and heartbreaking to see a loved one go from being healthy, active to someone whose life is curtailed by cancer – a disease synonymous with clinical trials, diagnostic tests, chemotherapy, radiation, plenty of multi-coloured pills and above all uncertainty leading to emotional distress. It alters the trajectory of lives once teeming with plans and aspirations.

“I had been in a different game, I was travelling on a speedy train ride, had dreams, plans, aspirations, goals, was fully engaged in them. And suddenly someone taps on my shoulder and I turn to see. It’s the TC (ticket collector): ‘Your destination is about to come. Please get down.’ I am confused: ‘No, no. My destination hasn’t come.’ ‘No, this is it. This is how it is sometimes,’” – reads Irrfan Khan’s heartrending note from a hospital bed in London on his battle with cancer.

One of the finest actors of the generation apparently realized that his life now is at the mercy of chemotherapy’s action on cancer cells and not his own will.

There are many organizations, cancer support forums and NGOs who have been doing tremendous work in combating cancer across India. Many of them are dedicated to helping thousands of underprivileged cancer patients. But given the rapid spread of the disease, and the cost of cancer in terms of human suffering and financial resources, the extent of help required is phenomenal.

Also Read: Irrfan Says He Won’t Let Fear & Panic Overrule as He Fights Cancer

Cancer in India

According to National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, every day, 1,500 people die of cancer in India, making it the second most common cause of death in India after cardiovascular disease. And nearly 2,000 new cancer cases are detected in the country daily. Projections by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) show that India is likely to have over 17.3 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020.

Central government’s comprehensive National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases & Stroke (NPCDCS) spread across states is still to address serious dearth of facilities at the district level let alone offer psychosocial support services on a broader level. While the country is badly in need of affordable and accessible treatment solutions, there is also need for widened hand-holding and psychological counseling programmes.

The latter assumes further significance as India has lower cancer rates compared to many countries but has a high death rate.

Also Read: ‘Your Stories Give Me Strength’: Sonali Bendre on Fighting Cancer

Why Cancer Care Has to be a Priority

India needs to create a network to provide psychosocial support to cancer patients.
India needs to create a network to provide psychosocial support to cancer patients.
(Photo: iStock)

Considering the enormity of cancer havoc in India, government both at the centre and state level needs to put its acts together to energetically scale up cancer care infrastructure across the state; thrust area being effective network for psychosocial support. Networking initiative must involve hospitals, cancer support forums and NGOs to ensure standardized measures and metrics for cancer caregiving.

Let’s look at the noteworthy findings of a New York City based organization having a network of more than 54 centres that offer social, emotional and psychological support to everyone living with cancer. The Centres are known for its healing environments.

The organization, part of the Cancer Support Community (CSC), found 80% of people living with cancer have limited access to psychosocial support services because of cost, difficulty in accessing fragmented support programs, lack of awareness and limited programming offered by hospitals and cancer support centers.

A nationwide study of those who availed its support services shows an overwhelming 95% of respondents reporting that the centres had a positive impact on their life. 88% felt less lonely, 87% felt reduced stress, 86% felt less fear, 85% felt they could face the future more positively and 83% felt more in control of their lives.

The remarkable study outcome is but validation of the fact that in our country we too need a network based cancer support initiative to address the alarming gap between psychosocial support services needed and the ones that exist now.

The trigger for this write up is my brother’s prostate cancer battle. Till the other day he was envied for his head of full of thick hair, after two rounds of chemo he supports a bald head. It’s not unusual though in the cancer treatment landscape, but what is unusual is lack of integrated clinical approach towards impending cancer epidemic.

While life by itself is a nonstop race towards death, disease like cancer typically brings one’s own death closer to experience.

That said, let me conclude with cancer’s limitations, quoting an unknown author -

What Cancer Cannot Do:

(The author is Former General Manager, International Centre Goa & Dy General Manager, India International Centre, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal. FIT neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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