Eight months ago, cancer cost 13-year-old Sonal her waist-length hair, her group of friends and her stamina to play volleyball.
Once an extrovert, Sonal has now become a recluse who even refuses to go for counselling sessions.
Even a meeting with actor Salman Khan, arranged by SL Raheja Hospital for cancer patients, did not excite her.
Born in Bhopal, Sonal has been in Mumbai since last June for treatment for cancer of the rectal region. Doctors may soon have to remove her uterus and ovaries to save her.
Besides physical complications, cancer breeds mental health problems.
Children suffering from the disease are often forced to discontinue school, shave their head, and avoid public places like theatres, parks and even social gatherings to avoid catching infections.
While Sonal’s family did not want her to know that she suffered from cancer, her mother took the news badly. “My wife fainted in front of Sonal and she learnt about her disease,” said her father.
“Parents play a crucial role in helping children cope with the disease,” said Dr Shantanu Sen, paediatric oncologist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Andheri.
At 11-year-old Aman’s Powai home, the word cancer became taboo since August 2009.
“Aman knows he is unwell but he thinks it has something to do with his hair problem. He often says he will go back to school once his hair grows back,” said his mother.
Shaina Austin just helped her four-year-old son win the battle against cancer.
“I broke down on the day my son was to be admitted to the hospital. I noticed that it made my son uneasy to see his mother weak. I took a vow that I would never repeat it again in front of him,” said Austin, a business consultant, who lives in Versova.