While the world observes October as the 'Breast Cancer Awareness Month', cancer patients living in villages of Sangrur district face a far bigger challenge than deteriorating health. For these persons, and their families, social stigma and economic constraints are behind the "everlasting" pain.
Such is the social stigma attached to cancer that while the patients shy away from visiting a doctor for treatment, the marriage proposals of their children are often rejected because of the condition. In the midst of all this, the money required for their treatment, which should be the priority, often takes the backseat.
"Tuhade ghar tan cancer vareya peya ae (Cancer lives in your house.)." These are the words Balwinder Kumar, a resident of Khanauri village, heard the three times his 35-year-old son's marriage proposal was rejected.
"In three years, I have lost three members of my family, including my parents and uncle, to cancer," Balwinder Singh, who, too, is a cancer patient, says. He refuses to get his photograph clicked, but says his son finally got married a few days ago.
Talking to residents of villages lining the banks of the Ghaggar river in Khanuri, Moonak and Lehragaga sub-divisions, this correspondent found that the problem runs deep.
Even the state government's decision to provide monetary assistance to cancer patients under the much-hyped Chief Minister Cancer Relief Fund Scheme has failed to lure cancer patients to come out in the open for treatment. Ajmair Singh, who was detected with throat cancer three years, reasons why he did not get himself registered with the health department: "Then anyone would have been able to go through my personal details. It would've later created problems at the time of the marriages of my children."
Most cancer patients, Hindustan Times approached, refused to reveal their names. Some people did not even divulge details about the cancer patients in their villages, saying that it would be bring disrepute to their village.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Shanti Devi musters up the courage to come on record and speak of her condition: "In the beginning, even neighbours stopped talking to me as they thought that they would also be diagnosed with cancer. No one, except my family members, knows about my health. But, now, even some of them hesitate in talking to me."
Another cancer patient, Mewa Singh, a resident of Anndana village, says that their problems quadruple during the monsoons. "Apart from cancer, floods, contaminated water and poor economic condition of people, have made our part of the state face social isolation," he says.
"Cancer," Mewa Singh says, "is rampant in the village. There are many families that have two or three cases of cancer. Now, even earning a livelihood is tough. Job rejections are another hard reality for us."
Though the health department has no official count of the number of cancer patients in the district, monetary assistance has been provided to 503 patients. "Cancer cases are scattered across the district. In reality, there are more cases. To keep cancer patients socially active, we will hold counselling sessions in villages," says a senior health department official. He adds the government has launched an extensive awareness campaign regarding the CM relief fund so that the benefit reaches maximum people.
Cancer and its connect with Oct, Nov
The entire months of October and November are dedicated to raising awareness about cancer. While October is popularly known as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, November is dedicated to raising awareness about prostate cancer.