Today is World Cancer Day. February 4.
My father died of complications from cancer in 1991. January 13.
My father was a surgeon. A very active man. An ace sprinter in his college days. Fit. Disciplined. Without any addiction. Smoking and alcohol included.
Smoking and alcohol included. He did not smoke. He did not have alcohol.
I saw him smoke last in early 70s. One cigarette a day. After lunch.
He did have tobacco though. Pan-Parag. Once after lunch. Once after dinner.
In 1989 he had a small swelling on the back of his right arm. A soft swelling. He consulted his friends. Colleagues. Antibiotics followed. The swelling did not subside.
I had gone to collect the report. Roy & Trivedi Laboratory. The report said in bold letters. Rhabdomyosarcoma.
I was a Medical intern then. I knew what a sarcoma was. I rushed to a Surgeon. My father’s friend and doctor. His brows turned to a frown.
I came back home. Dejected. Shattered. Silent.
My father asked, “Did you get the report?” I said “No.” And shut my bedroom door. I said “I have a headache. I need sleep.”
I turned over pages. Walter-Israel. Robins. Love-Bailey. What ever fat book I could hold on to. I was so scared. What next? Every page that I turned said to me, we will lose him soon.
After dinner. At around 11 PM. I knocked my father’s bedroom door. And handed him the report. He read. And sat down on the bed. We were all silent.
Me. Ma. Baba. My sister.
All that was possible in India happened thereafter. We lost our father to lung carcinoma. In 1991.
Science has moved on much over the past two decades.
Today there is much advancement in early detection and treatment of cancer.
It is time we know of them more.
For example, around one third of deaths from cancer are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use. All of these we can address. Without any external help.
In my public health career, I have had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the most rational scientific minds. In public health and clinical medicine.
In matters of battling cancer, across all streams of medicine there are a common message thread.
“Know your body, know your systems. With any change that you observe, consult a physician early. It may not be cancer that you are affected with. But ruling that out is important early.”
“Prevention is critical. Take all tools available for preventing cancer. For example, HPV vaccine and screening for any precancerous lesion is critical.”
“Lead a healthy lifestyle. We all know of healthy and disciplined people like my father who fell victim to cancer. But let them not make you feel what is in a disciplined life if at the end it does not prevent me from disease. These healthy people who suffer from cancer suffer because of some causes that Science is yet to determine. But unhealthy lifestyle like tobacco addiction definitely has a strong relationship to cancer. Stop smoking. Stop any form of tobacco addiction. Remember. My very disciplined father was not addicted but still he used to have Pan- Parag. Chewable tobacco. Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer and is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths.”
Follow the above.
Early rule out. Prevention. Healthy lifestyle.
And why did I write this? You ask?
Well, because you and me who live in middle- and low-income countries are more vulnerable to outcomes of cancer. Almost 70% of deaths globally from cancer occur in the countries that you and I live in. Low-and-middle-income.
Therefore, we must be aware. More. Let us live a blessed life as an informed citizen.