Vijaya Mukherjee and bravehearts of Hitaishini now help scores of women win their battle against breast cancer. Mouparna Bandyopadhyay tells us more
She has fought it and she has survived. Today she is helping hundreds of other women to win their battle against breast cancer.
Meet Vijaya Mukherjee who was detected with breast cancer in 1991. At that time I thought I was a terminal case. There was nobody to guide me. And I didnt even know who an oncologist was. There were so many different problems that I faced, she recalls.
In the same year she was operated upon and one of her breasts was removed. She was 45 then. In course of time she attended workshops and met people associated with the cause.
I realised that if one survivor can help another woman who is fighting the disease,it can be of great help, she says.
She started the Mastectomy Association of India in 1995 and decided that she would spread the message to all those affected by breast cancer.
Women who have breast cancer are still stigmatised. Being struck by a disease like cancer and then losing a part of her body is already a trauma for a woman. And when people around you are not supportive,the ordeal becomes unbearable, said Mukherjee.
Soon after she visited many hospitals in the city so that she could get a space to send a message.
Initially,most hospitals could not even understand what I wanted to do. Many of them turned me away, she says.
Finally,Dr Maqsod Siddique,who was the then director of Chittaranjan National Institute of Cancer (CNCI),gave us a platform. Mukherjee started Hitaishini in January 1996 to help,aid and counsel cancer patients.
Today the organisation is run by a body of nine members many of whom are breast cancer survivors.
We talk to the people about the myths,buy medicine for them,help them with physiotherapy,correct bras and also wigs, says Pami Shah,the treasurer of Hitaishini who lost her husband to cancer.
According to the members,many patients have certain complications after the operation. Once the breast is removed,some patients see that their arm swells up and it is very painful.
We give them physiotherapy help and lymphopress that gives them some relief. We also tell them about post-operative care. In many cases we have also given care givers to terminally-ill patients, says secretary Nupur Chakraborty.
The members travel extensively to create awareness,support victims with counselling and medical expenses.
When a breast cancer survivor sits beside another patient and tells her,Look,I have the disease and I am still alive and leading a normal life,it makes a lot of difference. They gain confidence and the trauma is minimised,which in itself helps in recovery. We also tell them how breast cancer can be detected at an early stage, says Shah.
Today the bravehearts of Hitaishini can be contacted at CNCI on Mondays and Thursdays. More then 20 people visit them on these days with various problems. Often survivors come to congratulate them and share their tales with others.