Of Lifestyle, Lethargy: Kashmir’s Cancer Situation Becoming Grave

Representational Photo.

MARYAM Sultan has been handling a post-cancer crisis in Kashmir for a while now. As a distress-manager, she’s quietly fundraising for the tumour treatment of poor patients. The sprinted woman in her late thirties narrates some chilling cases torn asunder by malignancy and misery.

“Most of these patients sleep normally before suddenly waking up to the fatal crisis and lose their sleep forever,” she says. “That’s how one can explain this brutal and life-threatening transition.”

As a welfare-worker, Maryam vindicates medical researches on cancer cases of Kashmir. “It’s escalating,” she says, based on the number of the critical cases she’s handling these days. “The upsurge can be attributed to the unawareness and hesitancy to report the symptoms.”

But while Maryam tackles the critical situation covertly, Dr. Fir Afroz is quite overt about it.

The medico blames people’s reluctance to report primary signs for the surging graph.

“The only way to counter cancer cases,” says Dr. Fir Afroz, who heads Radiation Oncology Department of SKIMS, “is to report the symptoms to doctor. If patients receive the treatment at an early stage, things will be better.”

But despite this much-recommended medical take, the data is telling some other story.

As per the Union Health Ministry statistics, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a spike in cancer cases in the last three years.

From the year 2019 to 2021, the region has reported 39,041 cancer cases, of which 12675 were recorded in 2019, 13012 in 2020 and 13354 in 2021.

Figures reveal that against the last year’s total patient load of 4800, Kashmir’s leading tertiary care hospital, SKIMS Soura alone received 1110 cancer cases in the first three months of 2022, highest in recent times.

These numbers have made the job of Maryam as well as the oncologist quite demanding.

But while the duo are handling the crisis in their own ways, experts say there’s a need to “close the care gap” which is about understanding the inequities in cancer care and taking actions to make the necessary progress to address them.

On the eve of National Cancer Awareness Day, observed on November 7 every year, Dr. Fir Afroz talks to Kashmir Observer arguing that awareness is the most potent tool to fight the dreadful disease.

Is cancer rising in Kashmir?

Yes, cancer is on rise in the valley.

Please explain the buildup?

Well, more registrations are being done at SKIMS. In 2021, the institute registered over 4800 cancer patients. In the ongoing year, the figures have already surpassed the last year.

But one positive thing is people are coming forward and report symptoms to the doctors. We see thousands of patients every month now.

What’s fuelling this upsurge?

So many factors, but the prominent ones are smoking, change in lifestyle.

What about awareness?

Well, cancer awareness is very complex due to different malignancies.

But to be specific, people should come forward in the initial stage of cancer where there’re 100 percent chances of cure. If they don’t share any unusual changes in their body with their family members or doctors, the cancer enters into an advanced stage where it’s difficult for patient to recover.

Which are the most common cancers found in Kashmir?

Lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women.

But how is lifestyle responsible for this disease?

See, we’ve become sedentary workers. This wasn’t a case with our elders. They were physically very active. We don’t exercise now and just eat a lot of junk food. Organic food isn’t available. The fat content is high in our meals. So, we need to change our lifestyle to avoid the dreadful disease.

Is early detection a sure shot to cancer cure?

See, cancer is curable at an early stage. So, early detected means early diagnosis, which in turn means early treatment. Yes, it helps in curbing the disease.

People need to be educated about the disease. Many female are still hesitant to report their breast issues. They don’t need to panic, but rather report to the doctor. Similarly, people passing blood with stool should consult doctors.

But the question remains, it cancer curable at all?

Well, it depends. As I said, if the cancer is detected at an early stage, there’re chances that the patients might recover. But if it’s in an advanced stage, then there’re no chances.

The doctors evaluate the patients and start the treatment accordingly. The intention of doctors is to cure, rest it’s up to God.

But why cancer patients can’t be treated in Kashmir?

The problem is people panic when cancer is detected to any person. Their family members prefer to go outside for treatment when the same treatment can be done here only. They just waste their money and time. At the end, they realize that this treatment can be done in Kashmir and they come to SKIMS.

The people need to trust their doctors. The basic cancer treatment is available at SKIMS free of cost. The people should avail the benefits.

But yes, there’re some loopholes and there’re some patients who need advanced treatment outside, but their number is very minimal.

What’s your National Cancer Awareness Day message to people of Kashmir?

My message is, if anyone finds any kind of symptom related to cancer, don’t panic and report to the doctor. If they receive the treatment at an early stage, things will be better. Stop self-medication and take the symptoms seriously.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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