Forty four years ago, doctors told her what then sounded like a death sentence. “You have cancer”. Zubeida was only 17 then. The menacing tumour caught up when she was studying medicine. Within a year her leg was amputated. Her options: to succumb to Destiny or get the better of it. She was not only determined to complete her MBBS but specialise in oncology. She had an artificial limb fitted and moved on even as her family was convinced that things would never be the same again.
Zubeida proved them wrong. She fought the dreaded disease and also carved a path for others afflicted by it. As a radiation oncologist she worked in major hospitals in the state and brought back smiles for many cancer patients: “If I am living why will you die?” she often told her patients who felt cancer was synonymous with Death: “Nothing will happen to you. Am I not a living example?” she would say. The words couldn’t lessen the physical pain but surely lent hope: “If she can why can’t we?” became the motto of all those Zubedia touched, treated and healed.
And it was not as if her own agony was any less. In 1988 she had to remove one of her breasts and in 2002 and 2005 she had to undergo aggressive chemotherapy. She is reluctant to talk about her own agony lest it disheartens those who try to emulate her.
Zubeida, now 61, shares a special bond with her patients. Partners in battle, Zubeida brings Hope for cancer patients, while they help her forget her suffering: “I forget my disease when I am in the midst of my patients” Zubeida told HT from a remote hospital in the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram where she is working as a consultant oncologist.
Harmala Gupta’s battle with cancer is equally inspiring. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while doing her PhD in Canada, she did not give in to the fear psychosis that comes with the diagnosis. Treated in Canada, she overcame the disease and came back to India where she set up Cansupport, an organisation which offers supportive and palliative care to cancer patients and survivors. “It took me 10 years to be able to deal emotionally with patients in the last stage of cancer. I was struck by the fact that our understanding of the disease is at least 20 years behind the West. Many still think it is infectious,” she says.
But she says, it is now not synonymous with death it once was. There is good news about cancer research and this is what more people need to know about. “It is only when we can talk openly about cancer and ways to beat it will the real battle begin,” she says.