A year ago, 35-year-old Vidhya discovered a lump in her breast and ignored it. Like so many other Indian women who aren't taught how to detect the early warning signs, Vidhya had no idea that she’d found one of the first symptoms of breast cancer.
In the UK, breast cancer awareness is fed to us through mass media campaigns, nationwide fundraising events, the education system, medical practices and our support network. But if you're a young girl growing up in a slum in India without a television, guaranteed schooling and access to healthcare, life-saving knowledge like how to detect cancer can evade your ears for your whole life. Guidance on how to monitor and check in on your own health isn't disseminated to the masses, especially when it comes to female-specific health issues. At a societal level, women's health is grossly neglected and Indian women have, over time, been conditioned to suffer in silence and develop a high threshold of tolerance. Even if Vidhya had known what her lump meant, her domestic duties would’ve been her primary concern. Following the death of her parents, her mother to cervical cancer and her father to a stroke, Vidhya became the sole provider for her siblings. After working long, exhausting hours as a cleaner, she’d return to her home in the Ganesh Nagar “Jopatpati” slum, to care for her alcoholic brother and younger sister. Preoccupied with the strain of her responsibilities, her mind didn't have room to accommodate her lump or potential health problems... ...But eventually, her symptoms became unavoidable. When she finally got professional help, the doctor’s diagnosis sent even more tremors through her life. The news that she had cancer was paralysing.
“When the doctor told me that I had cancer, I was in shock. I couldn’t function for a few days. I felt numb. Having nursed my mother at home, I saw how much she suffered with cancer, so I was terrified. As the eldest in the family, I felt unable to tell my siblings about the diagnosis; I didn’t want to worry them.
I became very depressed and would often cry alone. I wanted to kill myself to escape the burden of this awful situation. I thought the pain would go away forever. But then I thought of my brother and sister and realised that I am responsible for supporting them.“
When we met Vidhya, it was obvious that devotion to her siblings took precedent over everything, including her health. Familial love, and taking over the responsibilities of her parents, means everything to her, even at the expense of her own wellbeing. We didn't want her to have to make this sacrifice. Now, with the charity’s financial aid and support system, Vidhya’s health is getting the attention it deserves, and in spite of all the challenges life has thrown her way, she remains admirably upbeat about her future.
“When the WIN team came to my home, all of my worries vanished. They encouraged me to continue with treatment (chemotherapy). They have been supporting me in everything. I can't explain just how much they have helped. It’s like God sent them to me.” Our counselling and mindfulness services are transformative for women suffering with cancer. While treating bodily symptoms like nausea and tiredness is important, we also treat the collateral damage that cancer has on their minds.
Vidhya doesn’t have to worry about the cost of treatment or transportation to the hospital. She has new-found hope that, with our support, she can fight and overcome the cancer. When asked about her plans for the future, her entrepreneurial spirit shone through.
“Firstly, as soon as I start to feel well enough, I want to work. I would love to have my own small business - a “nasta” stall (fast food stall near her home). Through this business, I would love to build a “pukka” – a proper house, to replace the tin hut with bricks. Finally, I want to live my life to the fullest.”
Now that she has access to the base level of care that all women in India deserve by right, Vidhya can start to dream about a better future, and work towards it with a sense of hope about the reality of her aspirations.
But none of this life-changing care is possible without the generosity of our donors. Here's what Vidhya had to say when we asked her what she'd like her sponsor to know if she could speak to them.
“I can't fight cancer alone. I need you to fight alongside me. I’ve faced so many problems throughout my life and I am ready to keep fighting. I am a hard-working woman, and with your support, you can change my life.“