Friday, April 30, 2010

CanSupport home visit

I had a most profound day yesterday, CanSupport generously allowed me to go into the field with one of their home care teams, one doctor and two nurses. We visited 5 patients, all suffering from cancer and very much in need.  I was going to talk about the specifics, but really I need to just absorb and process everything a bit first.  Here are some photos, I think they speak for themselves.

I don't really know how I can go back to my life the way it was.  The people that I have met here in New Delhi are so inspiring.  They are some of the most caring, kind and generous people I have ever come across.  They make me want to be a better person, a more giving person, a person that makes a difference in peoples lives.  This project is already more than I could ever have hoped for.  Every day pulls me deeper into a more spiritual place,  a more thoughtful mindset.  I am ever thankful for what I have and realize how little I really need.  Tomorrow brings a new day with new friends to meet, and more amazing survivor stories to be heard,  I feel like the luckiest person on earth!  

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Delhi day 3

Today I was back at RGCI to meet with Sita Paintal and Jyotsna Govil. Sita now heads up Cancer Sahyog, the support group for people living with cancer that Harmala founded.  All the members have had personal experiences with cancer. The group is made up of survivors and caregivers.  They are volunteer based and through their personal experiences with cancer, help patients and their caregivers deal with all aspects of their illness and give them hope.  Sita became involved in the group after being a caregiver for her sister who had cancer.  After providing loving care for 6 years, her sister lost her battle with cancer, and Sita decided to devote her life to helping people with cancer.  Unfortunately, Sita herself now has cancer.  She has chronic myelogenous leukemia, which a daily treatment of Gleevec seems to keep in check.  She has a strong, positive spirit, and her dedication to Cancer Sahyog is palpable.  She seems to be a tireless force, I will be working with her on Friday at the IRCH where they have arranged for me to interview and photograph 4-5 additional survivors, and Saturday at a Breast Cancer Survivors program at the India International Centre. I also cannot wait to shoot her will see why....

Jyotsna is the Hon. Additional Secretary to the Indian Cancer Society,  She is an absolute wealth of information!!!  She is a warm and inviting person, and I am sure she is very good at getting whatever it is the ICS needs done!  She and Sita set up Friday for me and she will be there Saturday as well.

Sita and Jyotsna introduced me to a lovely couple today, Mr. P.R. and Mrs Urmil Tandon, they both volunteer for Cancer Sahyog.  Mrs. Tandon is a 21 year survivor of bladder cancer.  Mr. Tandon was her dedicated and loving caregiver and nursed her back to health.  Then it was her turn to be Mr. Tandon's caregiver when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  They light up the room with their joy of spirit and enthusiasm!

I then had the honor to meet Anjana Bhan, and hear her incredible story of surviving an extremely rare kidney cancer,  with two additional recurrences in her lung.  After multiple surgeries,  vicious chemo and radiation, she is 7 years out from her initial diagnosis (2 from her last treatment).  She has had a very painful and difficult road, yet somehow maintains a positive, thoughtful and insightful outlook on life.  She has a deep spirituality and an open heart.  She has a very interesting perspective on her treatment as she is also a doctor.  She is a contemplative and amazing woman and I was so happy to have met her!

Tomorrow I am heading out with the CanSupport home care team, this should be an amazing experience that very few people are able to share.  I hope that I can capture some strong images for them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Delhi day 2

Today I went to the CanSupport offices to meet with Harmala Gupta, the founder and president.  Harmala is a survivor of hodgkin's lymphoma.  She was diagnosed stage 4B at 33 years old with a 3 year old son.  She is an amazing woman.   In 1991 she started the first cancer support group for survivors in India, Cancer Sahyog, in 1996 she started CanSupport.  The majority of cancer patients in India are diagnosed in advanced stages and need palliative support.  CanSupport brings symptomatic relief, nursing care, and emotional support, through a trained team of doctors, nurses and counselors, to patients in their homes.  They are completely reliant on donations and fund raising to support their staff of 40 that care for 600 patients.  They work with the poor and underserved people of New Delhi and the outlying areas all free of charge.  Their web site is .  I will be spending Thursday and Friday with a team visiting patients in their homes.  This will be quite an experience for me and I am hoping to get some great shots that they can use to help promote their cause.

Harmala has been extremely helpful to me, she has been tremendously generous with her time, knowledge and contacts.   I hope that I can do more to help her change the perception of cancer here in India.  What I learned from the two women I spoke with yesterday and confirmed by Harmala is that having cancer is almost considered a stigma here.  If you have it, you don't tell people, you just keep it within your family.  And if you are a survivor it is that way also.  The first woman I spoke with Mrs. Kanr, only agreed to participate because I was from the States and no one here would see her photo and learn that she was a 2 year breast cancer survivor.  She seemed really sad, she said that she and her husband had decided that they should tell no one outside of their immediate family, not even her sister.  They didn't want people talking behind their back or knowing their business.  They used to travel frequently and entertain friends and family, but she doesn't do any of that any more for fear that someone will find out that she had cancer.  She was incredibly candid and honest about it, but I could feel that she wanted to reach out and talk more about it, that she needs the support and empathy that another cancer survivor could give her, someone who knows what she has gone through and that she can share her experiences and fears with.  When I asked her about going to a support group, her husband answered that she didn't need to and she agreed, but there was such a sadness about her, such a hole in her.  I hope somehow that this project can help open peoples minds and calm their fears about sharing their stories of surviving cancer and be able to embrace it and celebrate it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I arrived last night in my hotel at 1:00 am, woke up early and spent the day at the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Center.  Dr. Arvind Chaturvedi and his staff were unbelievably helpful and gracious.  They spent the entire day showing me the around the hospital, introducing me to the staff, honoring me with a lovely lunch and most importantly providing two incredible women cancer survivors for me to photograph and interview.  The Center is a wonderful facility that not only provides absolutely top quality physicians and state of the art technology, but compassionate and dignified care for all of it's patients.  I am heading back there on Wednesday to meet with some more of Dr. Chaturvedi's colleagues, they have a few more women for me to meet with as well.

Tomorrow morning I am off to meet with Harmala Gupta of CanSupport.  She is also a cancer survivor and founded and runs one of the foremost cancer support organizations in India.  Then in the afternoon I will be working with another survivor that Harmala has put me in contact with.  She is coming to my hotel for an interview and photos.

It was 108 degrees today and a very hot non-airconditioned 45 minute cab ride back from RGCI....but Delhi is amazing!  My hotel is a quiet little enclave of 8 acres in the middle of town, but once you get out on the street it is sensory overload and I am loving it!  I just have a permanent smile on my face, the sights and sounds are exactly what you think they will be.  I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!  Here are a couple of shots from the cab ride!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

on to India

Saturday I leave for New Delhi, India....then on to Kathmandu and home through Bahrain....the Indian embassy made me get a journalist visa with only a single entry permitted, so I have to route home from Nepal through Qatar and Bahrain.  I will spend about a day and a half in Bahrain waiting for my connection, it should be pretty cool, it's adding a bit of extra travel time, but I will try to make the best of it!  I am really psyched for India, I am super busy with meetings/shoots lined up everyday.  I will update the blog from there with pics and's going to be amazing!!!!  I also got a very clean bill of health yesterday from Dr. Dottino,  4 years cancer free!  What a way to celebrate!   

Sunday, April 11, 2010

heading to Delhi and Kathmandu

My first trip is not to Africa now, that is on hold for a bit, but I am heading off to Delhi and Kathmandu on the 24th! I decided that I just really need to get the ball rolling, so I emailed Alina Pawlowska at the UICC and asked her for some contacts in India and Nepal. 

I have been in contact with both the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and the Dharamshila Cancer Hospital in Delhi and have meetings set up with them for the day after I arrive.   I have also been talking to the program officer for the Nepal Cancer Relief Society in Kathmandu, Ms. Shakti Gurung.  She is trying to find women who would be interested and able to work on the project, but communication there is a bit difficult and takes time.  I am hoping that it pulls together in the next couple of weeks or I may change my plan and stay longer in India and lessen my time in Nepal.

Work here has been crazy busy for me, which is great, but I feel like a crazy person between shooting, retouching, doing production on new jobs, getting visas, extra pages put into my passport, coordinating all the necessary travel arrangements, trying to set up meetings with doctors and interviews and photo sessions!  I hope I can keep up this pace!  But it is all so exciting that I am enjoying every second of it!  Thank God for BA and business class at least I will finally get some rest  on the plane!

This trip is really going to set the tone for what this project will ultimately become, and I am so nervous and excited about it.  But I have a great feeling in my gut, that this is all good and right, and that everything will work out.  It is all so big and thrilling and wonderful, it's so hard to describe, but for me it feels like I am 21 and just starting out on my career. I have that same excitement and enthusiasm, but also all the knowledge, wisdom, and skill that I have acquired over the last 25 years.  It is an amazing road that my life is taking right now, and every day I am so thankful for it!