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Palliative Care For Cancer Patients: Here’s How We Can Lend A Helping Hand

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Millions of cancer patients die every year, making cancer one of the leading causes of death in India. 

Cancer patient at Karunashraya's medical care facility
A cancer patient at Karunashraya

Cancer is a life-threatening disease. Millions of cancer patients die an untimely death in India every year. Incurable in most cases, it needs to be understood better to help the affected live their remaining days peacefully. Here’s how a non-profit called Karunashraya is making a difference in the lives of cancer affected.

Why Should You Care?

9.6 million cancer deaths were recorded in 2018. India ranks third in cancer cases after China and the US. This makes cancer the second most common cause of death in India.

Every year India reports more than a million new cancer cases. One woman dies of cervical cancer every eight minutes in India. Unfortunately, half a million deaths happen due to the ignorance of the disease.

Prominent Among Women

Cancer among women in the country is estimated to be 0.7 million reported cases. Breast cancer is the most common cancer which accounts for about a quarter of all cancers in Indian women. More women in India die from cervical cancer than in any other country.

Need For Palliative Care

Cancer is a life-threatening disease which is difficult to cure. The patient suffers greatly as cancer progresses. The suffering is also because of the side effects of cancer treatment, which is both physical and emotional.

In India and in other low-income countries, the long treatment also adds to the financial burden of poor families. Nearly 80% of cancer patients in India try to access medical help when there is no hope for a cure. A large number of these people live in remote villages and slums. They survive in unhygienic surroundings, prone to many other diseases. This leads to poor quality of life and hence people affected by these need support.

Palliative care helps the affected lead their last days in peace. It is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families. It helps in pain management for terminally ill patients through medication and counseling.

Karunashraya Is Making A Difference

Karunashraya is first of its kind home for cancer patients who might not be financially stable in India. It helps patients live without pain and with peace.

The treatment given to cancer patients includes pain and symptom control, psychological and social support, rehabilitation therapies, counseling, and practical and financial advice.

It is a joint project of the Indian Cancer Society (Karnataka Chapter) and the Rotary Club of Bangalore, Indiranagar. It provides free professional palliative care for advanced-stage cancer patients who are beyond cure. They have been offering in-patient care since 1999 and home care since 1995, tending to over 17,500 patients. It provides a supportive environment for patients and their families to make things easier.

Karunashraya, means ‘an abode of compassion’. Their shelter home in Bangalore is a huge establishment, covered in lush greenery with birds chirping around. It is designed to make sure that patients spend their time peacefully.

Adding ‘Quality’ To The Lives Of Cancer Patients

Ayesha was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Despite being a positive person, the news of having an incurable disease shattered her. She started to remain quiet and distant. When she came to Karunashraya, she was shocked to see the scars of other patients. Her initial treatment involved chemotherapy and she used to leave the hospital as soon as she could without interacting with other patients.

In the beginning, she was reluctant to participate in any of the activities. She would make excuses and skip her sessions to avoid talking to anyone. One day her counselor gave her a coloring book and some colors. Ayesha excitedly worked all night and the next day came back with a beautiful sketch. Everyone appreciated her work and that acted as an ice breaker for Ayesha. She started attending activities with other patients and became comfortable with their wounds. This also helped her accept her own reality. She decided to live her remaining days as a cheerful person as she was. To uplift other patient’s spirits, she also started bringing them out of their wards and started spending time with them.

Ayesha’s wish was to die a peaceful death and it was granted. One morning she passed away in her sleep very peacefully. Her family was also happy that she managed to leave the world without much pain.

How Can You Support Cancer Patients?

People show their support in the most wonderful ways. One of the supporters of Karunashraya, Roshni Talera shaved her head to show her support to patients who lose their hair because of chemotherapy. This bright and energetic teenager from Bangalore went bald to gather support for cancer patients and to draw attention to Karunashraya’s efforts in palliative care.

You too can make a difference in your own way. More than 30 supporters make monthly donations on GiveIndia to support Karunashraya. To help Karunashraya continue its efforts, you too can donate for the treatment of poor cancer patients. Your donation will help them get access to the medical treatment they deserve.

This article was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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