Saturday, December 3, 2005

Stamped Impressions

An answer to cancer

Reeta Sharma meets Neerja Malik, who fought cancer with grit and set up the Apollo Cancer Support Group in Chennai to give strength to other patients like her

Neerja Malik
Neerja Malik

The very thought of interviewing a cancer patient filled my heart with sorrow. But when Neerja Malik entered my room with a 100-watt smile and hugged me warmly that I immediately felt a sense of regret for being presumptuous.

Neerja’s cancer was first detected in February, 1998 and it reoccurred in November, 2004. She put up with chemotherapies, radiations and a heavy dosage of potent medicines.

The rigours of coping with cancer have failed to mar her spirit. She has won many a battle against the effects of cancer on her body and spirit.

The word cancer doesn’t frighten her anymore. Instead of destroying her present with the fear of cancer, Neerja resolved to enjoy each and every moment of her life.

This ever-smiling mother of teenage twins, Shivani and Siddharth, looks after her business of manufacturing leather bags. She heads the Apollo Cancer Support Group, Chennai.

"The thought of starting a support group occurred to me after I went through the agony of cancer treatment. This disease not only attacks one physically but is also emotionally draining. It is a shattering experience for the
entire family.

After I recovered the first time, I could instantly reach out to other cancer patients. That’s when I thought of ‘making’ a family of people afflicted with cancer. Today our support group is like a family wherein, everyone reaches out to each other," says Neerja with satisfaction.

Neerja Malik’s family has a history of cancer. The entire family also has immense faith in God, which she feels is the source of her strength. "When I started the Apollo Cancer Support Group, I realised that any patient who has faced cancer with a positive mind-set will be a role model for others. A cancer patient can either be a source of depression for others like him or teach them how to grow flowers on the way. I chose the second option". 

The Apollo Cancer Support Group which Neerja founded extends help to cancer survivors in every possible way. Right from negotiating the routes to the treatment, hospitalisation, therapies etc. to the emotional support and bringing a semblance of normalcy in their lives, the group members take turns to be there.

"It inspires people to meet someone who has already gone through the trauma, pain and the rigours of the hospitals. When our group members meet them with cheer and hope, it re-assures such patients and instils dreams in them too.

Dreaded diseases like cancer make you rise above religion, caste and creed. `A0When I meet a Muslim woman, I promptly greet her with La-Elahi and a Sikh with Sasriyakal and so on. In suffering you are all one", Neerja shares her philosophy.

It was fortunate for Neerja that she came from an affluent family and could afford to bear the financial burden of cancer through her operations and chemotherapies. "But I soon realised that there were thousands of poor cancer patients who could not bear any expenses. They had no option but to get sucked in by the cancer sooner than later. That’s when we all decided to form an organisation to help poor cancer patients. We formed a trust, Sahayika, to give financial aid to the poor.

The concept of our trust means to help through companionship. This charitable trust was founded in 2003. My qualification in social work has also helped me in counselling the heartbroken cancer patients. Our main objective in ‘Sahayika’ is to extend total support. In a short span of less than two years, we have succeeded in helping over 400 patients. We all need to join hands", says Neerja Malik with enviable confidence and hope.

Fighting the big C

Neerja evolved these survival commandments:

  • Cancer is just a word, nothing more nothing less.

  •  Begin to respect and love your chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. They are your friends and companions. If they take a toll, they also are most generous in the favours they bestow on you.

  •  You should not regard your cancer as the sum total of your life but merely a part of it.

  •  You should learn all the details of your disease, its diagnosis, its prognosis and its treatment. This way you will learn to cooperate with your doctors intelligently and knowledgeably.

  •  You should give comfort in every possible way to your fellow sufferers, you should give them hope where there may be none. Only in hope is their salvation.

  •  Do not surrender to cancer, instead fill your life with every moment of joy.

  •  Express your feelings openly to your loved ones as they too need comforting and re-assurance.

  •  By all means you should maintain your sense of humour and laughter as it lightens the heart and hastens your recovery.

  •  If you fear your disease, it will grow and grow but if you face this fear, it will disappear.