Life after Cancer

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CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

When Ruby Ahluwalia was finally rid of breast cancer, following treatment, her doctor cautioned her to be very careful with her checkups. “He told me that my cancer had been aggressive and had started spreading. Plus I had been diagnosed at an advanced stage. Thus, there was a very high chance of recurrence,” she recalls. When Ahluwalia asked him how she could avoid this recurrence, he didn’t have an answer. This bothered her and she began to mull on it.

“I did not have a textbook reason for my cancer. For example, it is said that if you chew tobacco you may get oral cancer or you could get lung cancer if you keep smoking, or breast cancer if you have not had children, or not breastfed them. None of these reasons applied to me. So I began looking at what could be my reason,” she says.

And in the process she worked out a few things. “I figured that cancer cells thrive on the toxicity of the system, which means I needed to reduce this toxicity. And one of the ways in which we accumulate a lot of toxins in our systems is through food. Instead of blessing ourselves with food, we end up abusing ourselves with it. Any food which is not digested rots in the system, creates acid and becomes toxins,” she explains.

Another aspect she explored was breathing. “When you breathe, you inhale oxygen, which is the biggest alkaline. And if you look carefully, you will realise that we are not breathing deep enough for oxygen to reach out lungs properly. But once you become aware of your breathing, it becomes better and more oxygen will go in,” she says.

The third point she concentrated on is on the way we think and respond. “These days, most of the time we keep our system in a stressful situation for some reason or the other. Now, whenever our system is under anxiety, the brain gives a signal to the body that there could be an emergency and therefore extra energy is released in the body, so that we can feel relaxed,” explains Ahluwalia. However, this emergency is not a physical one ie one in which we flee or do something to use the energy. “This threat that we create in the system is perceived. So the extra energy that is released in the body is not utilised and it all converts into toxins,” she says. Following this learning, Ahluwalia decided to start Sanjeevani – Life Beyond Cancer in 2012, three years after her diagnosis, to share this knowledge with others affected by cancer, to empower them and assure them that there is a way forward.

The workshop they conduct at this organisation which focuses on these three aspects is called Satori: A Wellness initiative. “It is a process. You can’t just tell someone to start thinking positively and it will happen automatically. You have to teach yourself and habituate yourself to think in a positive way. And this is where we help,” she says. This programme is currently running in four cities Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Bikaner.

The organisation also runs Sanjeevani Counselling and Rehabilitation Centre in 14 cities around India, which aims to motivate and encourage patients to complete their treatment and keep a positive outlook towards treatment as well as life. It also conducts a certificate course on onco – care giving to train cancer survivors and their relatives to become cancer caregivers. Indeed, she says, employment is a big issue for cancer survivors, especially among those who work in unorganised sectors. “After treatment, they find it difficult to find their feet and so we help by training them in this four-month programme. I believe that these people have gained wisdom through this treatment and now that wisdom needs to be honed and utilised to raise the cancer care in the country,” she says, adding that cancer care in India is very limited.

The assumption, she says, is that cancer care is equal to medical intervention. This is the case not just in India but everywhere in the world. But in truth, she says, is goes way beyond that. “For an optimal outcome, medical intervention has to be supported by so much more for a person to come out of it and live not as a burden to himself and the family, but as a productive member of the society and economy,” she says.

Further, she says, giving an example, there are agents that thrive on the wound, apart from there being healing agents. “On the wound of cancer there are too many agents which have started thriving on the wound. It works for them that the wound remains there for as long as possible. The effort on my side is to create a community of healing agents,” she says.

Working primarily with underprivileged cancer patients, Ahluwalia states that when she began she was advised against working with this strata of society. “Most people told me that the needs of the underprivileged people, as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were not psychological, that they were only bothered about their food and shelter. They told me that if I wanted to do this work, I should work with people with better economic backgrounds,” she says. But Ahluwalia did not pay heed to this. “In this country there are so many who are underprivileged and so I knew that these were the people I wanted to work with,” she says. And the advantage of working with these people is that they have no ego, she says. “We have people with better economic backgrounds coming to the centres too, but they have their own conditions. For example they want to do therapy but want it one-on-one. They don’t realise that it is the group energy that works together. Or they will say that they will not attend a certain session because they have already watched it on the net. All this hampers the whole absorption of the thought process,” she says.

Another aspect that the organisation concentrates on is awareness activities to help create awareness for prevention and need for early detection. These they do through various channels, be it through creation of films, detection camps, walkathons, bike rides, etc.

And while they have worked with plenty of people so far, Ahluwalia acknowledges that there are challenges. “Given that this whole concept is new, it becomes difficult to convince people about it. Also, voluntarism is India is not considered a serious business. Of course funding too is always a huge challenge,” she says.

Even so, she hopes to reach out to more people through her organisation. “Tday, if you are looking for insurance, you just have to whistle and an insurance agent will appear. Similarly, I want this help to be available to the cancer patient at a whistle,” she says.

(Ruby Ahluwalia, will be one of the speakers at the upcoming TedxPanaji event to be held on March 8 at Kala Academy, Panaji)

Finding Expression

Ruby Ahluwalia recently released her debut book ‘Fragrance of a Wild Soul’ that documents her search to discover where her cancer came from and why, and how to counter it. “We are all harbouring our own cancers even if they have not become tumours yet. The idea is that through this book, you can get to know your story through my story,” she says, adding that the most difficult part about penning the book was putting her vulnerabilities on paper.

Besides this, Ahluwalia is also a self-taught artist. Her works have been on exhibition, and are also available for purchase. “I think everybody owes it to themselves to find a way to express their emotions in whatever way works for them. I do it through art. In fact, I was always into art, but it was on the backburner for awhile owing to my job and young family,” she says. However, following her illness, her love for art was revived.