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Dr. Tara Rajendran: Oncology and Classical Music

Tara classical music

On Rediscovering her Talent

I have been trained in classical music; performing at national music festivals since childhood. As a medical student, I grew distant from my veena as a result of the intensive training that took over the rest.

After one night of absolute exhaustion from duty, I walked into my room and saw my dusty veena sitting in the corner. I took it and played for 15 minutes. I felt immensely calm.

Learning Abroad

In 2017, I got the opportunity to visit the Harvard Medical School as an international visiting student. The Dean took note of my passion for music and oncology. He advised I combine both. I was faintly aware of the power of music in helping people battling stress, anxiety and depression; all prominent symptoms with patients battling cancer.

I read up about it and as fate would have it, two years later, in 2019, I visited Stanford Medicine as an international student and I showed a clip of my performance to a faculty. His fascination with my work motivated me to start ‘Oncology and Strings.’ I performed on their campus.

Tara classical music

Initiating a Change in India

India is a rich reservoir of music, but we have not started using it as an agent, balm if you will, for relief. On my return, I went on to deliver a TEDx talk about it and performed at Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, the Tata Memorial Hospital and AIIMS, among others.

The feedback has been encouraging. Hospitals are open to this therapy in India, but need someone to take the initiative. I have now started lending my music clips to hospitals to help their cancer patients. But this will not be enough. Change must come in tides. For this, a group of us are putting in a proposal to the Medical Council of India on the need for a centralised professional organisation for music therapy.

Tara classical music

India is home to about 70-100 music colleges. Each year, students graduating out of these move on to teaching music to others or joining academia as teachers. Imagine if we could take all these graduates on board and set up a pragmatic system that integrates music into healthcare services?

If Indian music is entertaining, its classical music is equally healing. We need to open our minds to this very real possibility.

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Dimple Parmar: On Colon Cancer, Loss and Hope

Dimple colon cancer

He came, changed my life forever and left.

When Love Blossomed

We met at a conference and discovered that we study at the same school. The bond was instant. Soon, I was his confidante, he’d share about his financial crisis and his struggles fixing it. I could listen to him for hours.

Dimple Colon Cancer

Around that time, he’d started feeling sick; the feeling growing twofold each day. After visiting a doctor, he packed his bags and left for his hometown. He had stage 3 colon cancer. But there was hope, so he returned to college, juggled with school and chemotherapy while I put in all my energy to look after him as his parents were back home. After graduation, in the ICU, he confessed he was in love with me and proposed. I had been in love with him forever. I said yes!

The Struggles with Colon Cancer

But life threw another curve ball when his MRI scans showed that the cancer had spread everywhere. We had six months to cram a lifetime into. We got married at a temple, travelled continents, knocked every door looking for help, but nothing could be done. He left.

Helping the Society

At 27, I gave up my corporate career and founded @lovehealscancer and ZenOnco.io So many people are often lost after the initial diagnosis. An integrated health care system for cancer support ranging from the conventional treatment to mental, emotional and spiritual well being is the need of the hour. There was so much to share with the community after what I went through and I couldn’t leave that behind.

Dimple

From breaking taboos associated with this disease to educating people that cancer patients don’t need sympathy, there’s so much one can do. I genuinely believe that beyond NGOs and hospitals, our people are our biggest strength. My dream is to bring millions together, sensitise them towards cancer and build a community that cares for its patients.

My husband lives with me every moment. I channelise my love for him into everything that I do. I do wish I didn’t have to see him die, but I know we are meant to meet and stay together in another lifetime. Our ‘forever’ is waiting.

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Amit Khuva: Laughing Through Hemophilia

Amit Hemophilia

The Diagnosis

I was about six months old when I was diagnosed of hemophilia. Simply put, it is a condition where the body lacks an agent that is important to clot any bleeding/injuries for recovery. Without it, any injury or excessive physical strain can cause an unstoppable internal/external bleeding.

I had a challenging childhood tainted by the constant worry of being injured and the consistent questions and inquiries about my condition. In spite of scoring well in the exams, I had trouble securing an admission in a different school because no school wanted to take a chance with my condition.

Discovering Comedy

Back in the days, my dad managed a banquet hall and I’d accompany him often. As a child, I was smitten by the stage. I cracked jokes every time I checked the mic’s sound. Gradually, comedy started becoming my safe haven. I could ball up my anger, pain and frustration into tight sets and crisp jokes. It was therapy. Things started looking up when I participated in ‘Chotey Miyan‘, a show by COLORS TV and hosted by Kapil Sharma. At 13, I was India’s youngest comedian.

Amit Hemophilia

Until a few years ago, either parent always travelled with me to help manage my condition. Some time in 2014, I was selected to represent India as a hemophilia survivor. I had to travel to Germany alone and went through rigorous training into self care and taking shots in order to sustain. There was no stopping me after that. I travelled to The States for shows and organised one of the most elaborate stand-up comedy shows all over Gujarat, India.

Pushing Borders and Boundaries

Comedy helped me change the one question that revolved around my life for a long time: from asking ‘how are you?’ or ‘what is hemophilia?’, people now ask ‘when is your next show?’ I founded ‘Cafe Comedy’ where I train aspiring stand up comedians and my YouTube channel has garnered over 50 million views.

Amit Hemophilia

Medicine has progressed a lot since I was diagnosed. Things are easier and less painful. I believe that no matter what the situation, there is always a way out. All one needs to do is take things in one’s stride and get in head on. Life is too short to live in complaints, laugh away.

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Sheetal Hirani: Bald is Beautiful

On Advocating Bald is Beautiful

A head full of hair has been a poignant contributing factor to define a woman’s beauty.

Over the years, I have seen cancer survivors, especially women, fight the ‘stigma’ of a bald head. Bald is beautiful is hardly a concept in India. The moment one loses hair after chemotherapy, they stop feeling beautiful, desired and loved. It had been a long standing dream to do something about it, but the usual rigmarole of life pushed the thought on the back burner.

sheetal bald is beautiful

Couple of weeks ago, I saw myself in the mirror and a strong desire flooded my entire being. I shaved; went bald. When I stepped out of the room, my parents and family were taken aback momentarily. When I explained I did it to stand in solidarity with cancer patients, they understood. It wasn’t easy to do what I did, but I kept thinking about all those women who have to battle the disease and the unrealistic beauty standards of our society each day.

Donating Hair for a Cause

Some friends guided me and in a few days I will neatly pack my hair in an envelope and send it to an organisation that makes wigs for cancer patients.

Sheetal bald is beautiful

Yes, I could have donated money, I could have donated a few inches of my hair, but that wouldn’t have been enough for me. I want to walk around with my head held high, I want to smile at people who point in my direction and to the countless questions society has asked me about my decision I want to ask them if they would have asked all those questions to a man.

Beauty is who you are. I believe humans evolve with experiences. These experiences are a window to their soul. That, to me, is beautiful.

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Harsh Gandhi: Marrow Donation During Covid-19

Harsh marrow donation

On the Dilemma of Marrow Donation

Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown in my country turned out to be particularly challenging for me. My father had travelled to another city before the lockdown and was facing health issues. I couldn’t bring him home. Back at home, my younger brother had some medical challenges that needed time and attention. Amidst these problems, I received a call from DATRI that my marrow matched with a 14 year old fighting leukemia Believe me, I wanted to help, but the circumstances at home clouded my judgement momentarily. I needed time to think and plan.

Datri understood my concerns, counselled and I agreed. Moreover, they offered to help me bring my father home.

Travel Amidst Lockdown

I had to travel between cities for the marrow donation. My concerns about safety were put to rest the moment I saw the car and the safety kit for my protection. Donating a marrow during a complete lockdown can feel like a strange irony. Everything feels dead, no life on the roads and here you are, travelling from one city to another to save a teenager’s life.

Harsh marrow donation

Donating the Marrow

The process was longer since I had to test for Covid, wait for the results and then donate my marrow. I hadn’t ever donated blood in my life and I had agreed for marrow donation. I did feel anxious. There was no need though because it felt and looked just like blood donation. Few millilitres of my marrow, neatly sealed in a packet; a lifetime for someone.

I don’t know how they managed to do it, but Datri actually pulled all the strings and helped me bring my father home.

The feeling of actually contributing in saving someone’s life is surreal. Lockdown or not, covid or not, I’d do this again in a heartbeat.

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