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Breaking the Silence: Exposing the Reality of Late Detection in Lung Cancer with Ms. Vandana Mahajan & Mr. Vivek Sharma

Breaking the Silence: Exposing the Reality of Late Detection in Lung Cancer with Ms. Vandana Mahajan & Mr. Vivek Sharma

Unveiling Shadows: Ms. Vandana Mahajan & Mr. Vivek Sharma Speak Out on Late Detection in Lung Cancer

Vivek Sharma: My name is Vivek Sharma, and you are watching me on my YouTube channel where we discuss cancer. With me is Vandana Mahajan, who is herself a cancer survivor. She is also a cancer care counselor and a palliative care counselor and she has counseled thousands of patients and caregivers to date. So, My First question to you is – When a patient comes to you, and when you interact with them many times it feels like you wish this patient had come earlier as you have already seen the patient’s journey. I think you might be aligned with my statement on late detection which is quite common in India.

Vandana: Absolutely, Vivek Ji. First of all, thank you for the opportunity. And what you said about late detection is true. Because of this many lives are lost. I am fortunate that my cancer was detected early and cured. Even after advancements in our country, there is still a lack of awareness among the population. And if I talk about awareness it is lacking even among our physicians who are general practitioners. And yes, if we talk about lung cancer, it starts with a basic symptom – Cough. What actually happens? The patient goes to the local hospital in their village. They are diagnosed with either asthma, bronchitis, or TB. And this treatment continues for months. No one tells them that it has been 15 or 20 days or 30 days. Your illness is not improving. It could be something else. Even, the awareness of the patient is not present among physicians. How will the patients be aware if the physicians lack basic knowledge?  

Vivek Sharma: I agree to a great extent with this. And I also want to ask you another question. When we talk about awareness, one problem is that there is no awareness. What do you think is the most important factor? Why is there no awareness? I mean, we are educated people. Our country, our society, has grown a lot in the last 10-50 years. Even now when we talk about cancer, how much evolution has happened in this regard? What could be the reasons for the lack of awareness?

Vandana: Firstly, Vivek Ji, what you said just now- there is no awareness. None of us think that we might have cancer. The first reason that I could think of is that – They do not pay attention to their own health on daily basis. Secondly, in today’s society, smoking has become so prevalent that it creates a mental block in your mind that nothing will happen to you. Despite the data being available everywhere we convince ourselves that we can never have it. The data shows that around 13 out of 15 people are prone to cancer from smoking. Still, these smokers presume that we can be among these 2 people lucky people who never got cancer. So, the major problem is that there are no programs for creating awareness in India. Tell me, how many programs do we conduct at the local level through the government?  There are Asha workers in rural vilages? Do we train them to talk about cancer? No. 

So there are many local centers in rural India and we do not conduct any screenings there. We do not even talk about it. How will awareness of cancer happen when there is no awareness program? Another thing is that lung cancer is not only caused by tobacco and smoking. Nowadays, there are many other factors of Lung cancer occurrence. 

Do we see in any media that people talk about pollution? No, we don’t. We also know that nowadays young patients are getting cancer due to pollution. Also, young non-smoker women are getting lung cancer at such a young age. Some women in India, presume that they have never consumed alcohol, they have never smoked, so they can never get prone to cancer. Even if they are experiencing certain symptoms of cough, they believe it is due to environmental pollution. 

Local physicians are too risking their lives by not warning them about their symptoms. You know how common it has become in young women to get prone to cancer. Early detection in young women is very important to get the necessary treatment to save lives. The cancer can be curative, but when it is detected in stage four, everything becomes limited.

Vivek Sharma: You have shared quite deep thoughts today on cancer Vandana, and I would like to know one more thing from you. As a counselor, you meet people, talk to them, and try to understand their thoughts. Don’t you think, in our country, there is a high stigma regarding cancer?

Vandana: Yes, absolutely Vivekji, You have asked the precise question. So, even if someone falls ill, people don’t want to talk about it. They won’t go to the hospital for treatment because everyone will find out where they’re going. They’ll prefer going to Ayurveda and consuming homeopathic medicines, Dolma’s medicines, and Baba Ramdev’s medicines, but they won’t step into an oncology center because of what people will think about us. So, this stigma is quite significant. 

And when we talk about rural India, Mr. Vivek, they actually consider the stigma as untouchable. If you sit with them, their first question is, “Can we sit with our children? Can there be a husband-wife relationship? Can cancer be transmitted by drinking contaminated water?” So, breaking this stigma is very necessary. I’ve just mentioned a couple of things. There are so many other stigmas among these people that you can’t even think about such as Can we use the same bathroom? Can we sleep in the same bed? Should they be kept in a separate room, because of this, young mothers are kept away from their children. It makes me very sad. There can be no downhearted thing than keeping children away from mothers.

Vivek Sharma: What do you think, how can we eliminate this stigma or taboo? Firstly, awareness is essential. Without it, nothing can happen, but it will take time for a significant change to occur. So What do you think, we can do right now? What message would you like us to convey?

Vandana: Firstly, choose the correct channels on digital media. It’s crucial to stay away from misinformation. Especially, don’t trust Google Baba blindly. Google Baba will corrupt your intellect, you should know what an authentic source is. And please, if you don’t know something, connect with people who have experience. Connect with those who are subject matter experts. There are so many people in our community who want to boost the stigma from one side to the other. And, If it doesn’t happen from both sides, what will we do alone? So, I think this mid-way solution is a good idea. People should take some steps to speak up. We have taken baby steps to address the stigma in India. Another thing is – Until the government does not gets involved, we can’t do anything. Even if we reach millions of people through your channel, we can spread awareness to vast number of population. 

I believe we need Pan India Movement to burst myths About Cancer. That’s when people will come forward for treatment on time.

Vivek Sharma: Thank you so much. Vandana Ji, for expressing your thoughts and sharing your experience with us. You are listening to me, Vivek Sharma Social Entrepreneur. With Vandana Mahajan, Thank you.

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