Deepa (name changed), 25, who was diagnosed with breast cancer two months ago, has been told by her uncle to move out of his house.
“Her uncle-aunt feel that cancer is contagious and she will spread it through the family. She is looking for a place to move out,” said Anita Peter, director, Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA).
Fifteen days ago, when Deepa underwent her first cycle of chemotherapy, none of her relatives escorted her. Deepa has also lost her job as a salesgirl.
Despite the advances in the cancer treatment and increased awareness about the disease, the stigma and misconceptions about the disease still exists, feel doctors.
“There are lots of myths about the disease. I have come across patients who believe that the disease is infectious. There have been cases where women with breast cancer from educated middle class families complain of isolation from their family members,” said Dr Jayita Deodhar, psychiatrist and associate professor at Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel.
Many breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomy (removal of the breast) start wearing the breast prosthesis soon. “Women insist on wearing the prosthesis despite the wound being fresh. They are just not ready to take a chance with the family,” said Peter.
After completing treatment for cancer, patients face a nagging doubt that they will suffer a relapse. “Even after many years, patients can still face anxiety and relive past experiences, especially unpleasant ones, when they come for a follow-up,” said Dr Deodhar.
Since the illness is chronic, the lives of the relatives who tend to the patient undergo drastic changes. “The relatives are not able to go to work for long periods. They cannot even share their own grief with anyone. While patients get a lot of sympathy, the caregivers are taken for granted,” said Vandana Gupta, founder of V-Care Foundation that work with cancer patients and families.
Support groups like V-care foundation and CPAA help patients to meet survivors and give a more positive outlook to their life.