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Home >> Centre battles cancer against all odds

Centre battles cancer against all odds
non-profit chemotherapy centre at sion offers cancer treatment at marginal costs
seemaa kamdar

vasun thakeria (name changed) is a tailor by profession, who barely is able to make ends meet. so when he developed a lump on one side of his abdomen and was diagnosed with colon cancer seven months ago, his heart sank. his world came crashing down when doctors at the tata memorial hospital shook their heads and told him he had two months to die.
"i was devastated,'' he recalls. while walking along the sion main road thereafter, he saw a board announcing a 'non-profit cancer treatment centre'. reasoning that it could cause him no further harm to check it out, he stepped in and met dr kaushik damania, a medical oncologist and the founder of the centre.

dr damania got thakeria a free bed in jaslok hospital, where he was operated. to date, he has had no recurrence but he goes to the centre every week for a chemotherapy session. the doctor does not promise a long stay, but to him every day is a bonus earned through a chance encounter.
the sir kikabhai premchand centre, started last year, is tucked away behind a complex near gandhi market. it could have passed off as a neat residence on a piece of high-priced real estate, were it not for a reception area and a cubicle for an office. but this is where people line up every monday and wednesday to treat a serious disease.

it is probably the first non-profit facility in the city to offer chemotherapy sessions at a marginal cost. "we try to help the patients in whichever way we can,'' says dr damania, who trained and practised in the us for 25 years.

"in india, cancer patients suffer a lot," says dr damania. the centre caters to the poorest of the poor and the well-heeled, taking in about 10 to 15 patients every week. one breast cancer patient cooks for a living while another, who is free of the disease has donated rs30,000. though many are not charged at all, free treatment is avoided. "otherwise it's not valued,'' says dr damania.
many come back for follow-ups even after getting rid of the disease. "i come here to make sure there's no recurrence," says a patient who has recovered from ovarian cancer.

the genial doctor, who also practices at jaslok hospital, started this facility after "being moved by the plight of cancer patients here". "as my cousin had launched this trust, i thought we could use the space and do something useful,'' he says.

the centre has tied up with the cancer patients aid association for discounted drugs for chemotherapy and other support facilities. discounts keep pouring in from drug companies but dr damania believes there is room for more. "there is a lot of profiteering in india on cancer drugs. the best rate i got for needles, for instance, was rs330 for one, whereas in the us, one gets them for $21 for a dozen that is about rs80 each."
even after discounts, the centre spends from its pocket. each chemotherapy session costs the patient rs150 to rs400 depending on the number of the hours the intravenous drip is used. at the end of the month, the centre shells out rs30,000 - even though the rent is nominal at rs500 from a sister charity trust - and gets back rs20,000. "we run on the goodwill of patients and well-wishers,'' smiles dr damania who gives away his earnings at the centre as well.

while discussing his patients, he observes matter-of-factly that a complete cure is not possible and that most of his patients run the risk of getting it again. when you shudder, the clinician counters, "why, diabetes is also debilitating. in an aggressive form, it can make you blind and limbless."

Publication : DNA; Section : Mumbai; Pg : 7; Date : 4/8/07