“Talk about your problem to resourceful people and get it solved,” – these were her words when she started talking about her initiative towards palliative care and the reason behind resigning from her job. I had known her from my graduation days, but nowadays, she is well-known as the ‘Angelina Jolie of Assam’ who fought cancer with a lot of positivity and paved the way for many others, saying that if we fight back, everything is possible.
For everyone, she is Panna Bharali but for me, she is “Pappu Baa”. She hasn’t held a grudge for even a single day for life being so harsh to her, when both her elder sister and mother died because of ovarian cancer. Instead, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she said, “If I sit thinking and cry about the problem, it won’t be solved. Instead I need to find a solution to resolve it.”
Today, she is completely disease-free and is part of a palliative care centre named “Pratishruti Cancer Palliative Care Society” in Dibrugarh, Assam. When asked why she chose to resign from her well-to-do job to be a part of palliative care, she replied that survival is a tedious process for patients who have undergone treatment. They have to go through both physical and psychological trauma. The physical trauma often leads to depressions and anxiety attacks. So during this period, the patient should be given positive vibes to lead a healthy and stress-free life after treatment.
She says she became a part of this society because of Dr Gayatri Gogoi (a pathologist from Assam Medical College and a pioneer in cancer biology, Dibrugarh, Assam), who supported Panna through her treatment and gave her the strength to fight through the difficult stages of treatment. Her father, Dr Heramba Kumar Bharali, was a well-known pathologist and social worker. He would always be with her during her most difficult times. Unfortunately, he died due to a massive heart-attack back in 2016, while she was still recovering. This incident left Panna shattered, but during this period, Dr Gayatri gave her immense mental support. After her treatment and recovery were complete, she decided that just like Dr Gayatri, she too wanted to be of some help to the people passing through the same pain and trauma, and aid them in restarting a normal life after treatment.
Sharing her journey with me, Pappu Baa says, “I want to be a pratishruti (promise) to the people suffering from after-treatment trauma that life can be spent in a normal way, even after all the pain one has gone through – and this was one of the reasons I joined Pratishruti. Since I have been through the same mental and physical trauma, I know how broken they are and the kind of moral support they need.
In India, although there are places that provide palliative care, barely any importance is given to it. It is not always the work of the physicians or the medical personnel to take care and even follow up on the patients, but it should be within the routine of the people/relatives taking care of the patients to keep a track of their timely follow-up and even deal with their psychological mood shifts with utmost positivity. This is majorly lacking in our society.
The survivor and their family members are in so much panic during treatment because they think it will cost them their entire savings. But, in reality, it is not so. There are many government schemes under which treatment can be done at a minimal cost. Since my previous job was involved with a government body, I am well-versed with those schemes – and joining Pratishruti has helped me to reach patients and help them get educated about these schemes instead of panicking about the cost.
This organisation has become my main priority in life today, so that I can fill positivity in the lives of cancer survivors and let them know that this is not the end of their life. So many of them live in fear that the cancer will come back. Thus, in fear of the future, they forget to live in the present. It’s a difficult thing to do for me alone, and I am blessed to have people around me who volunteer readily for this initiative of my team. I know that we can’t help every person, but at least we can bring a new gleam of light in a few lives.”
Pappu Baa is a true fighter who is also efficiently handling ‘Irab-Kirab’, an NGO started by her late sister which works on environmental conservation issues. Her elder sister had been pursuing a doctorate on the endangered orchids in the Northeast. To keep her dream alive, Pappu Ba is preparing a kitchen garden in her home where she grows different types of orchids available in NE. In short, Pappu Baa has dedicated her life to the welfare of the society in all aspects. She doesn’t want any recognition for her work and is one of the many unsung heroes of our society as she believes that ‘an action speaks louder than words’.
A conversation with Pappu Baa always inspires me a lot and reminds me a couple of lines from a song by Def Leppard, “I got a long long way to go before I say goodbye to you.”