By Vijitha Yapa

‘I don’t smoke or drink. How can I get cancer? What about children? Why should they get cancer?’ These are questions that are heard every day about this disease for which there are no known causes. It is no respecter of persons – rich or poor, politician or proletarian. The word ‘cancer’ sends shivers not only down the spine but also to various other parts of the anatomy because it can strike anywhere.

And most equate cancer with death.

However, Dr. Vijay Anand Reddy’s book has one consistent message: cancer is curable. And the articles in it are written by cancer survivors. The patients have a common message too – that the positive attitude of doctors and their kindness play a major role in the recovery of cancer patients.

Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), take note!

Why me? Why me of all people?

It’s heartbreaking to hear cancer patients ask this question.

Millions of dollars are being spent on cancer research. And new equipment to battle the dreaded disease is purchased by or donated to hospitals. Cancer medicines are expensive and some even contend that pharmaceutical firms know of a cure but prefer to keep it secret so that they can mint millions off the agony of suffering patients.

Reddy, who is based at the Apollo Cancer Institute in Hyderabad must be congratulated for publishing this collection of stories featuring 108 cancer survivors. These narratives were selected from more than 1,000 patients who had consulted him. The anecdotes make the book unique, and explain the emotions felt by the survivors when they were diagnosed as having cancer, their reactions to the news and the aftereffects of treatment.

Each story is accompanied by a comment from Reddy who speaks about cancer and his analysis of each patient’s response to the treatment. The views of patients are given prominence and they raise valuable questions such as ‘Are events predetermined?’ and ‘Does the universe follow karmic laws?’

Some believe everything is a coincidence while others do not.

The stories published are revealing – like that of 73-year-old Kamala who was taking a bath when she discovered a lump the size of a mosquito bite or pimple on her right breast and wondered what had caused it. “I prodded it and felt nothing. A mosquito bite would itch, a pimple would hurt. The lump was doing neither.”

She waited a month before seeing a doctor. The diagnosis led to a mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy. She says that more than the pain she suffered, she wondered whether it was better to die as “my disease had torn everybody else’s lives to shreds. They had no time for themselves. My cancer had consumed us all.”

Kamala, who has since recovered, says: “It is the imperfections – the sorrow; the trials and the tribulations – that make us realise how lucky we have always been.”

Books I have read usually highlight the experiences of an individual who has decided to describe what he or she has been through. This is not a general book on cancer but a well documented compilation that contains important information, which will benefit those who suffer from the disease and potential victims.

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the initial reactions are often of a shocked sadness since it seems like a death sentence.

Reddy also analyses cases in order to advise the public. Take for example the case of Banumathi who was diagnosed with cancer in the cervix at an advanced stage. She was operated on, and then underwent five days of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation.

The oncologist explains that more than 90 percent of cancers of the cervix are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted during sexual contact. He says that an injection is available today, which should be administered to females aged between 12 and 28 as it prevents cancer of the cervix by almost 95 percent.

A single sentence statement accompanies each testimony and is a joy to read though it isn’t indicated whether it’s been chosen by the author or a patient. Many of them are worthy of consideration – for example: “Your story is the key that can unlock someone else’s prison.”

Forty-year-old Bhramara is a breast cancer survivor with a simple philosophy: “The reason people with healthy lifestyles get cancer is because today’s definition of a healthy lifestyle is grossly wrong. We define a healthy lifestyle by the absence of certain negative factors than the presence of positive ones.”

On the flip side, some repetitive comments by the doctor are superfluous – as are some comments by patients praising Reddy. If they had been edited out, the book would be much more readable.