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Himanshu is not alone…..

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He was one of the most charming police officer I have ever met. Himanshu Roy was perfect picture of health and fitness when I met him the first time. It was almost unbelievable that he was battling with cancer. Although he sounded worried, I had never imagined he would take the extreme step of taking his own life out of frustration from cancer.

This unfortunate loss of life which shocked all of us, but Himanshu is not alone. Thousands and thousands of cancer patients suffer through depression and many of them take the extreme step of taking their life. As a young resident doctor in Tata Memorial Hospital, I came face to face with what cancer can do at an early stage in my career. One of the patients admitted in the ward committed suicide due to his frustration. He was so fed up with his pain and agony, that he hanged himself with the help of a bedsheet in the toilet. That event changed the way I look at cancer and cancer patients forever. It made me aware of how important mental health is to all of us and especially to cancer patients. Through the years I have tried to understand what goes on in the minds of my patients. It is mind-boggling to see what they go through at various phases of treatment and the battles that they have to fight.

The diagnosis of cancer itself is equated to a death sentence by many and most people lose hope and feel helpless. Even in today’s world, cancer is a taboo disease and people are embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their diagnosis. Cancer and its treatment can cause many side effects, may alter appearance of the person, or maybe even make them disabled. Cancer therapies can be expensive and can cause financial stress on the patient and family. A combination of these psychological, social, emotional, and financial issues may push the patient into depression. Awareness about mental health issues is very poor in community and even within medical fraternity. Diagnosing depression at an early stage and treating it with medications, counselling, and therapy might prevent unfortunate suicides and disabilities. All of us need to appreciate that diagnosis and treatment of cancer can be emotionally overwhelming for patients and care givers. The worst advice a doctor or a friend can give to cancer patient is to be strong. This does not help the emotional fragility of the patient but may put an extra pressure on them to appear strong while they’re feeling emotionally completely broken. A more compassionate approach would be to acknowledge the stress, fear, anxiety that the patient is going through and telling them that you are there to support them and walk them through this journey.

I never got a chance to speak to Himanshu about his emotions as we met only once for a brief time a long time ago. I suspect the pressure to appear strong would be immense on personality such as him who is perceived to be a very strong man. We have unfortunately lost Himanshu but let’s try to save many more such patience by allowing them to express their feelings and giving them a patient hearing rather than giving them advice about how to be strong.

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