A crisis of catastrophic proportion emerging in India currently is the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, labelled briefly as NCDs. These do not cause havoc in the lives of people all at once but kill them one by one. Gradually sapping the vital energy of persons, such diseases cause much pain, misery, disability and premature deaths, leaving in their wake unbearable suffering and penury for all the near and dear ones – children and mothers in particular.
Childhood is the age where children have a lot of fun, wishes and desires. But for children with cancer, it is battle against the odds. These children are an inspiration in their ability to put aside their pain and sorrow and make the best of whatever life has to offer.
According to global cancer statistics, childhood cancers (cancers in children <18 yrs age) constitute 0.5-4.6% of all cancers and 1% of all cancer deaths. Leukemias, lymphomas (tumours of blood and lymphatics) and tumours of Central Nervous System are the major types of cancer in children. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates 3 lakh annual cases and close to 80,000 childhood deaths due to cancers.
As an undergraduate student, I first visited Wenlock District hospital in 1978 and continued my postgraduate studies in paediatrics in Kasturba Medical College. Later, I joined as a lecturer and continued to work there as a paediatric specialist and Head of the department and subsequently retired in 2018.
Why my child has cancer? What have I done to deserve this pain of seeing my beloved child go through the excruciating pain of being cancer affected, denying her/him of all the joys of childhood? These are questions that are posed by parents of the affected children we work with. In some cases, parents repeatedly ask such questions when their much-loved child takes her/his last painful gasps of breath and loses her/his battle for survival (heart-rending experience for them). Unfortunately, there are no answers to such questions as of now.