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 www.cansupport.org .  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.

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