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Tales of grit and glory in Calcutta

Common in all the stories was an appeal — survivors don’t want to be treated like their time is up

By Debraj Mitra in Calcutta

  • Published 13.09.19, 2:03 AM
  • Updated 13.09.19, 2:03 AM
The survivors at Thursday’s programme
The survivors at Thursday’s programme Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Anit Sarkar was about to be booked for wearing a half helmet when he told a traffic constable that he could not wear a crash helmet covering his face as he had undergone surgery for oral cancer.

The constable let him off while murmuring a small prayer. That was in 2015.

“It seemed like he was praying for my afterlife. But I am still going strong,” Sarkar, a regional manager with an online travel aggregator, grinned as he spoke at a club on the Maidan on Thursday.

Sarkar moderated a session attended by cancer survivors who opened up on their fight and struggle to return to normal life.

Also present were doctors of Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals where the head and neck cancer survivors had been treated. Every tale was that of perseverance and grit.

Also common in all the stories was an appeal — survivors don’t want to be treated like their time is up.

“Once I was diagnosed with throat cancer, almost every relative who called or turned up consoled my family members like my death was a foregone conclusion,” Ajoy Mondal, another survivor in his 60s, said.

Mondal, a Dhakuria resident, had undergone surgery that resulted in the removal of his voice box in 2017.

He spoke with the help of an electrolarynx — a device which when pressed against a person’s neck produces sounds. Mondal has lost his original voice and cannot speak for long at one go. “I used to be extremely talkative. I am still getting used to talking less,” Mondal said as his wife laughed along with the others in the audience.

Surgical oncologists of Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals, who were in the audience, set the context of the meet.

“We want to create a robust support group for cancer patients. As doctors, we say a lot of things to patients. But listening to survivors has a big influence on patients,” Shantanu Panja, a head and neck surgery specialist, said.

Doctors stressed the need to look for and not ignore early warning signs — oral ulcers that don’t heal, painless lumps, nasal mass and persistent cracked voice. “A positive attitude is extremely important,” surgical oncologist Shaikat Gupta said.

Bireswar Datta, 62, an Ichhapur resident, embodied that spirit. What started in 2016 as a pain in the gum turned out to be an oral cancer. He underwent surgery and 30 radiation sessions thereafter.

Datta, a former first division cricketer who played for the century-old Wari Athletic Club on the Maidan, shared anecdotes from his playing days. He said Arun Lal, another cancer survivor and someone he has played against, inspired him. “He was playing for Mohun Bagan and I dropped him at first slip. He said thank you during lunch break.”

Datta has now set his sights on the Himalayas. “I am practising for a trek to Sandakphu (the highest point in Bengal at 11,929ft in Darjeeling) in 2020,” he told Metro on the sidelines of the programme.

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