Mumbai News

Health and Wellness: A support group by cancer survivors in Mumbai provides much-needed succour to patients – The Indian Express

The fight against cancer can be a daunting, isolating and emotionally draining experience. In a bid to extend some much-needed emotional support to such individuals, a group of cancer survivors, under the name Saathi, have been counselling patients at Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai.

The support group provides a space where survivors and caregivers can share their stories and connect with others who understand what they are going through. They also help people to deal with the challenges of cancer, such as adjustment to a new diagnosis, emotional stress, and financial concerns.

Rashmi Tipnis, a member of the group and a cancer survivor herself, said many of the patients she has counselled affectionately call her maa (mother), maasi (aunt) or badi maa. “Especially in younger patients, their parents — devastated by the detection of cancer, need more emotional and moral support. Speaking to someone who has overcome the fears of cancer gives the caretaker and the patient a lot of confidence to undergo the treatment positively,” said Tipnis.

As members of the group have the experience of overcoming different types of cancer, gynaecological, gastrointestinal, hepato-pancreatic-biliary, orthopaedic, haematological, head and neck, and breast, their collective experience proves valuable to patients recently detected with cancer. It is curated by renowned cancer experts at Nanavati Hospital.

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Members of the group, through a WhatsApp group and periodic meetings, share their experiences and feelings, and receive advice and encouragement from others who are undergoing cancer treatment. Members of Saathi also offer practical information about cancer treatment and coping strategies to newly diagnosed cancer patients, whenever they need assistance.

Long-time sarcoma survivor Jayashree Shanbag, who has been a part of Saathi and one other cancer support group in Mumbai, said she looks forward to her doctor’s call inviting her to assist patients. “I recently counselled a teenager from Vapi who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the femur. I also called one of our fellow survivors who had successfully recovered from a similar type of cancer. His mother was eager to meet us as we have overcome cancer and are leading a healthy life. We even help them choose implants for surgery,” Shanbag said.

Speaking about why the hospital set up Saathi, Dr Hemant Tongaonkar, senior director of urologic and gynaecologic oncosurgery and head of surgical oncology at the hospital said, “The sheer psychological burden of cancer, is equally or often, more exhausting than the disease itself. Saathi was established to provide a forum for people to share their thoughts and feelings, as well as learn about how to best support their loved one.”


“Though we as doctors build a warm relationship with all our patients, platforms such as these offer an additional sense of community and belonging, which is often lost when a person is diagnosed with cancer,” he added.