Walk into a room full of cancer-afflicted people and what do you expect to see? Faces writ large with despondency, gloom and maybe despair. Emotions Sunaina Chordia is all-too-familiar with.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, the 50-something Sunaina was overcome by a dark, depressive cloud which thickened further when she underwent mastectomy (an operation to surgically remove a breast, partially or completely).
"After the operation I felt as if everything was gone. There is nothing left now," recalled Chordia. That's all in the past, though. Today, she counsels women suffering from breast cancer at hospitals on weekdays and makes prostheses (artificial breasts) made of cotton for women who have undergone mastectomy.
"Five-day week!" chirps Mridula Tiwari, a perennially-smiling woman who has a 28-year-old daughter but herself doesn't look a day over 30. Mridula and Sunaina are among a dozen of cancer patients — they prefer the term 'survivors' — gathered at a house in Kalindi Park, a gated neighbourhood near Srinagar Extension, for a psychological boost-up through music.
The house is home to Indradhanush Sangeet Upchar Prasar Sanstha, a non-profit organisation that uses music to increase positivity and a feeling of wellness among cancer survivors. It's around 6:30 pm and a group of women are gathered at the house smiling and singing simple, if stirring, melodies. The atmosphere is marked by joie de vivre, gaiety and an unmistakable zest for life.
"Are they all cancer patients? They look so happy," remarks HT lensman Shankar Mourya as he clicks away. The music therapy sessions are the brainchild of Chhaya Matange who holds a PhD degree in music and earlier taught the subject at Daly College. Matange was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007 decided to use her musical training to help others who were in a similar position.
And thus Indradhanush was born in 2011 with Matange serving as secretary. "Music therapy is not an alternative to regular medicine but complements it," she says. She was joined by joint secretary Vishakha Marathe who was diagnosed in 1996, when breast cancer cases were much rarer and support groups nearly non-existent. "I used to counsel patients who came to Dr (Digpal) Dharkar," she recalled.
Things have changed quite a bit since. "Medicine has made great strides, we don't need chemotherapy now. I myself am on hormone therapy after six cycles of chemo," said Anuradha Saxena, a highly articulate middle-aged woman.
Some things, however, remain unchanged. "Losing an organ like the breast is a big blow for any woman," says Saxena. Dealing with the psychological trauma can be a daunting task and this is where support systems like this kick in.
"I was very depressed. I didn’t want to disclose it to anyone earlier," said Sunita Pimple, who was told she had ovarian cancer in 2010, her eyes brimming with tears as she recalled those dark days.
For Seema Natu her toddler son provided the incentive to battle cancer. "My son was two years old when I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. Every time I looked at him I felt I had to live, no matter what," she revealed.
The laughter and gaiety here make us forget everything, she added. All the women, however, are unanimous that family support is essential for people to tide over the depressive tsunami waves that follow a cancer diagnosis.
Matange also slams the doom-and-gloom of advts aimed at preventing the spread of cancer. "They show that a person is about to die. There should also be some positive advts which show that a person with cancer is living a normal, happy life. And if music is what it takes to achieve that, play on."
Superintendent, Govt Cancer Hospital Dr Fakhruddin says, "There is no scientific evidence to suggest that such therapies have any palliative or curative effect. There may be some psychological benefit but only analgesics work in relieving pain."
HoD, Dept of Psychiatry, MGM Medical College Dr Ramgulam Razdan says, "Music therapy and group involvement can play a major role in boosting patients' morale and psychological well-being, especially if taken in conjunction with regular treatment."