The cost of cancer : What it takes for an ordinary family to beat an extraordinary disease in the world’s most polluted city
The cost of cancer: What it takes for an ordinary family to beat an extraordinary disease in the world’s most polluted city
(Images by Ishan Tankha)
(Delhi, 5 November) It took six doctors for Atul Kumar Jain to discover he had something more sinister than a waning appetite and “bas halki-phulki khaasi (a mild cough)”. After five leading chest specialists dismissed the 40-year old nonsmoker’s x-ray and blood reports, his wife, homemaker and caregiver Pooja persisted. “My husband said ‘you’re mad’, but I went alone to meet Dr. Arvind at nine at night to show these reports one last time.”
Dr. Arvind, a leading chest specialist at Gangaram Hospital, spotted signs of the worst- “he said that this could be either a tumour, TB or cancer.” Five days later, Atul was diagnosed with Stage II-A cancer in his lungs. “I was going to file a case against some of the big doctors who said nothing, you think we’re stupid to be worried for nothing?” says Pooja. That was the last day she says she’s allowed herself to cry.
Delhi is a city of survivors. It takes grit to navigate this city of 27 million that is set to grow further, becoming Asia’s biggest megacity in 2028.
The Jains live as a joint family in a three-storey house in Shahdara, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods that lies on the banks of the Yamuna, bordering Uttar Pradesh. Once a major grain-trading hub in the 17th century and quite literally the fourth gate to the city, Shahdara is now a crossroads for three national highways and one state highway.
As the city rewrites its old margins, neighbourhoods like Shahdara are sites of upheaval, even as they are bursting at their seams. New floors are being added to old houses in lanes so densely packed, it’s hard to spot the sun. Malls mushroom along the snaking highways, throwing more construction dust into the air. Gated housing projects with manicured lawns and the fanciest names lie within a few kilometres of Jhilmil, one of Delhi’s oldest industrial areas. Yesterday, Shahdara’s neighbourhood’s air quality climbed into the red.
The Jains live in one such lane. Knock on the door and 14 year old Samyak Jain hands you his visiting card. Since Atul was diagnosed, Samyak has been taking care of his father’s garment and electrical components business that’s run out of the ground floor of the house. From interacting with buyers from the African Union to checking up inventory, this teenager now does it all.
“Look at him!” says Pooja wistfully. “This kid is now grown-up.” From the day Atul fell ill, school took the backseat for Samyak, who scraped through last year with barely fifty per cent attendance. Within the Jain community, where sons typically follow in the father’s business, it would not be surprising if he dropped out of school entirely. It would still be years too soon. “His birthday was on the last day of his dad’s chemo. He didn’t cut a cake, or throw a party. He just wanted to spend time with his father and massage his aching feet.”
Cancer costs, in more ways than one. “His hair started falling out, he’d get angry. Financially and emotionally we all took a hit,” admits Puja. When the scans first came in, Atul didn’t have health insurance. Pooja’s Rs. 2,00,000 policy covered only a fourth of the cost of the surgery. Add to that ten days of post-op care, chemotherapy every three weeks, “only Bisleri water, a special diet- I wanted the best for him”, over and above the medicines.
Clients started to keep their distance and fault lines showed in their family over finances. “Once people hear cancer, they assume it’s all over. Zindagi zeher ban gayi thi (life became poison).”
Pooja is no stranger to the disease- she was when she lost her mother to breast cancer. “When they said they had to operate immediately and then do chemo, the whole world stopped for me,” said Pooja. Atul’s tumour was large, but luckily for him, and thanks to Dr. Arvind, it was detected in time. <QUOTE> The doctor was recently at the WHO air pollution summit that India’s leading policy-makers chose to give a miss and has been taking to the streets to protest India’s silent health emergency. According to the WHO’s latest report, air pollution causes 3.8 million deaths a year, with XX deaths in India alone.
Atul’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle and he knows it. He’s a proud survivor and insists on showing you his scar, and has pictures of himself from the surgery saved on his phone. But whether this family will know normalcy again is doubtful.
Three flights of stairs separate the office and the warehouse. Fading energy levels have meant there’s little chance of Atul returning to business as usual. A clear-plastic box full of Volini gel and pain medication still lie by the bedside table.
There’s also the inconvenient fact that they still live in Delhi, currently recording its worst air days. But quitting the city and moving elsewhere is not an option. The Jains are gearing up to celebrate Atul’s first Diwali at home. “We were born in Dilli, our circle is here, we were married here, our kids study here- Dilli people want to live in Dilli,” says Pooja, in the thick of activity, as in-laws mill over festival preparations. Much as the Jains wish they could leave Delhi on the most polluted day in the year, for business families like theirs, it’s the most important festival of the season.
“Don’t get me wrong- I love Diwali more than anyone else- the dressing up, lighting the house up,” says Pooja as she picks out new clothes for Atul to wear, while ducking into the kitchen to supervise the sweet-making. “But my kids didn’t burst any crackers last year- they understand that their dad is sick because of pollution. After what we’ve been through, we don’t want anyone else’s family to suffer.”
Will Delhi do the same for them?
क्या यह ख़बर/ लेख आपको पसंद आया ? कृपया कमेंट बॉक्स में कमेंट भी करें और शेयर भी करें ताकि ज्यादा लोगों तक बात पहुंचे
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