Neha was among the few lucky patients, who could be operated to treat her cancer. Her cancer surgery, which was conducted at Saifee Hospital recently by a team of doctors headed by me (Dr Anil Sanganeria), was a six-hour-long operation.
Before this surgery took place, this 23-year-old young patient had to struggle to reach Mumbai and had to wait for over two months for restrictions to be partially lifted. She is a resident of Rajasthan, who had a large cancer tumour mass in her chest around her heart and lungs which made it difficult for her to breathe or even walk for a short distance.
While chemotherapy was conducted on her cancer, it didn't bear the expected results. So, the only way left to save her was to surgical remove the tumour. But travelling for treatment and finding a place in Mumbai to stay during the lockdown was yet another task.
But she fought all odds and completed her journey successful to Mumbai.
Like her, there are many patients who are waiting in queue to either be operated or waiting for chemotherapy. People like Neha were able to make it, but that would not be the case with others.
One need to understand that cancer treatment is a hospital-focused treatment where patients have to reach out to speciality hospitals for their diagnosis and various modalities of treatment — be it chemotherapy surgeries or radiation therapies.
In most parts of the country, this treatment is unavailable in close proximity. So, the patients have to travel long distances for their treatment.
On a daily basis, India gets around a million new cancer patients each year. Most of them need urgent treatment at the earliest or the disease would progress fast to be untreatable or would comprise with the prognosis of the results.
All was well before the lockdown, but post that the restrictions had a far-reaching impact on these cancer patients as the movement was limited and there was panic around any forms of treatment which led them to suffer further.
From March-end onwards till June, many major hospitals of the country stopped taking up cancer diagnosis and treatment, cancer surgeries dropped by 70 per cent, chemotherapy by 80 per cent and radiation therapies by almost 90 per cent and diagnosis by almost 100 per cent. There were no takers for new patients. Hospitals across the country were shut down due to the restrictive strategies adopted by many states and administrative authorities. The movement of cancer patients was hit due to non-availability of transport. Other confusion persisted even among routine patients who were on chemotherapy. They were denied admission and treatment despite having to do compulsory COVID-19 testing.
Parwati Devi, an elderly cancer patient, was separated from her son whom she solely depended on. He got stuck in Patna and she was in Mumbai with no one to cater to her needs. But with much difficulty, she managed to reach to a concerned hospital, only to be denied admission repeatedly for three times. In this process, she missed her regular monthly chemotherapy as well.
While it was a challenge for all cancer patients, it was no less than a nightmare for kids suffering from blood cancer who were totalling dependent upon their day-to-day admission and chemotherapy treatment.
On Doctors' Day, I thought of sharing pains of the already suffering patients. Already the list of patients waiting for cancer treatment is long, such stories are common across the globe. But what is more disheartening is the way authorities missed the plight of these patients. These authorities should have taken cognisance of the plight of cancer patients and made lockdown a lot more relaxed at least for them to travel and reach out to their hospitals for treatment.
Yet another cancer patient, Jagdish Singh, was stuck in Agra and was unable to undergo his chemotherapy which he regularly underwent in Mumbai. He was one among the many unlucky patients who were not able to get treatment as doctors and hospitals in Agra refused, nor was he able to travel to Mumbai. Meanwhile, his cancer progressed and was bedridden. Over time, he developed paralysis. In this condition, he was brought to Mumbai for his treatment in a 16-hour painful drive.
However, in the case of Neha, her condition did not deteriorate that fast. Today, Neha can breathe easily, post the removal of the tumour. And this has come as a sigh of relief to her. It is a proud moment equally for me to have been able to treat her amid all the confusion and panic created due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Anil Sanganeria, Consultant Surgical Oncologist with Saifee Hospital Mumbai.