Cancer is one of the top burdens for healthcare in India causing morbidity and mortality. There is substantial geographical variation in the incidence of cancer in India. In the NE region, for example, the incidence of cancer for both sexes is highest in India. But the stigma around the disease, the social behavior of patients and their families, and the doubts on the public health system for treatment is still present all over the country. People in India, especially in the rural areas not only fear the physical symptoms such as balding and body changes but also the social stakes of the disease due to which India has yet to progress in the area of cancer care of its healthcare. Coping up with cancer in India is extremely difficult because of the harsh psychological, social, and physical pressure forced upon the patients by members of the society.

MIT professor The new book “Enduring Cancer: Life, Death, and Diagnosis in Delhi” by MIT professor Dwaipayan Banerjee tells us through an analysis of the lives of poor patients coping with cancer in and around Delhi, the perspectives and experiences of cancer patients, and how it reflects the cancer treatment scenario in India. He highlights the following points in the book:

There are still underdeveloped parts of rural India where people are hesitant to use the word “cancer” even though they are fully aware of their diagnosis. They learn it through regular hospital visits, by various nonverbal signs, and nature from the care they receive. More often than not, the decision not to speak about it, or to discuss speech carefully around it, is a way of showing care and concern. It is a means by which they weave this frightening disease into their daily worlds.

The root cause of the stigma related to cancer is the same as for other diseases that are closely related to death. People are uncomfortable around death or not ready to accept the prospect of dying. 

Banerjee observes that in the global south, the prevalence of cancer has long been overlooked by public health experts and politicians who correlated the disease more with developed societies and also believed that the incidence of the disease was decreased by vegetarian diets (were present in India). And yet, he states, even British doctors in India sent home reports in the 19th century about treating cancer patients, disappointed by the colonial government’s lack of attention to the disease.

He also talked about the different kinds of self-help books that help in coping with cancer and what kind of message they give to the patients and the readers. About this stuff, Banerjee has mixed views. Most mass-market cancer books in India, as elsewhere in the world, are self-help volumes that offer inspiration, but can also stress people by making them feel unduly responsible for their own well-being. These books advise patients to be strong in the face of the disease and to be a survivor and by the sheer force of personal will to overcome the pain. But it can end up removing this structure from the more political aspects of the disorder. “Some of the titles of the book:” The Joy of Cancer,” “To Cancer with Love,” “My Date with Cancer, “and” Cancer Made Me, “which Banerjee says gives patients a strong message:” Don’t let them know that you have lost your hair or are feeling too much pain. Learn to love the disease and let it teach you not only to survive but to become a better person. The assumption here is that the habits of the patient’s life before the disease contributed to its occurrence. For women, this can be especially dangerous, as they are often accused of transitioning too quickly to a “modern” working lifestyle and not taking care of their own health. 

The book shows cancer in India in its true form, which exists across many relationships, aspirations, frustrations, gendered battles, caregiving gestures, medical sciences, and familial trials. It highlights the need for a will to address the environmental contaminants and inequalities of medicine relating to cancer that has become part of public health systems all over the world. It urges society to think not only about the cancer disease but also about the cancer patients as well.