Harmala Gupta is a 61-year-old cancer survivor who got a second chance at life at the age of 34. She is also the Founder-President of a Cancer Charity in New Delhi called CanSupport an organization that enable people with advanced cancer and their families to make informed choices and decisions and to receive appropriate physical, emotional, social and spiritual support.
In an exclusive interview with Credihealth, Harmala describes how she first found out she had cancer.
I cannot understand how doctors ask why you didn’t come earlier. My symptoms at the best were vague though persistent – a nagging cough, pain in the back, breathlessness on exertion, weight loss, a stomach upset and finally extreme tiredness. I visited a neurologist for the pain in my back who after examining me said, “I do not like your pallor”.
Harmala’s doctor suggested a blood test and when the results came back he recommended her to see an internal medicine specialist. Her hemoglobin was low while her white cell count were alarmingly high. Thus began the journey of discovery which ended in Harmala’s diagnose with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
I was studying for a Ph.D. in Montreal, Canada, when I was diagnosed with cancer.
She went through treatment at the Princess Margaret Cancer Institute in Toronto.
The Canadian health system is a dream. Since I had health coverage I did not have to spend a cent on treatments. Neither did I need a VIP to make my doctor look at me twice (perhaps even once!). I was a patient who needed attention and I got it. This was also my exposure to volunteers and to the positive role they can play in offering practical support of all kinds, an empathetic listening ear and the benefit of a shared experience. I was put in touch with a support group as well as attended a few relaxation classes. This was a boost to my spirits and filled me with hope of my recovery.
It’s sad to see how in India sick people are not valued. Seeing this huge difference in patient treatment between the 2 countries, Harmala came back to India and started one of the first Cancer Support Groups. She further goes on to tell us…
Cancer is a life experience. It cannot leave you unaffected. You take what you choose from it. For me it was an opportunity to pause and assess my goals, decide what was really important to me and course correct. I would also like to believe that it has made me a more compassionate and caring person. I am certainly not as impatient as I was nor as judgmental. I am more willing to forget and forgive and move on. Hopefully a more enlightened being?
When asked what advice she’d like to give people reading this Harmala says
I would advise people to pay more attention to their bodies and not ignore symptoms that persist. You know your body better than anyone else and are its first defence. The body is a hero. Don’t let it down.