…and the world came crashing down. “The FNAC (Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology) report is positive. Your wife has cancer”. For years after the doctor who broke this news to us at Delhi’s Holy Family Hospital in 2006, I wondered with how much ease and comfort could he say it. Perhaps he was a professional, someone who didn’t want to establish a patient-doctor bond which one had been used to before this incident. And, in fact, the faith in this very bond was kept alive by the doctors we met during her treatment and subsequent recovery, but not where this gentleman had shocked instead of comforting us.
So when I read the news of Bollywood actor Sonali Bendre being diagnosed with cancer on social media today, I couldn’t help but remember each of those days when, after sending off our elder seven-year-old daughter to school and feeding baby food to the 14-month-old younger one, both of us, my wife and I, would head to Indraprastha Apollo Hospital for treatment, beginning with surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Later, we had to go for follow-ups with innumerable tests. This went on for almost two years.
Must admit that all this drains you psychologically, physically and financially… But if the sufferer has the willpower, as my wife had, “I want to live for my kids and won’t ever give up,” she would often say, it makes things easier. It certainly isn’t cakewalk, as doctors told us, perhaps to comfort and dispel the fear we had. And not to forget, the doctors around you… One shall forever be indebted to each one, from Lt Col (Retd) Dr VP Singh to Dr Ruquaya Mir to Dr PK Das to Dr GK Jadhav to Dr Sapna Manocha… These angels, along with those ever-smiling and consoling nurses, ensured my wife came out of the tumultuous period without pain and without turning into an emotional wreck. And who can forget those ever-helpful autowalas of Mayur Vihar II who occasionally took us to the hospital and waited for hours till we were back. And the relatives and friends who always stood by us… did they have any choice I always thought… Today, more than a decade later, my heart still goes out to each and every single soul who helped us in his/her own way, and due to whom all my wife is all hale and hearty. My wife beat cancer and I am proud of her.
So when Sonali released the statement, “Sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you a curveball. I have recently been diagnosed with a high grade cancer that has metastised, which we frankly did not see coming. A niggling pain led to some tests, which led to this unexpected diagnosis. My family and close friends have rallied around me, providing the best support system that anyone can ask for. I am very blessed and thankful for each of them”, I completely connect with each and every word she says.
Bendre, best known for her role in the movies of the 90s such as Sarfarosh, Diljale, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Takkar, English Babu Desi Mem and Duplicate, is married to filmmaker Goldie Behl. The couple has a 13-year-old son, Ranveer.
Cancer, indeed, is a dreaded word for patients and medical professionals alike. In simple words, cancer refers to abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells. Many cancers are not detected or do not cause symptoms until advanced stages, making it challenging to treat the condition. Advanced stages are associated with symptoms because the cancer (primary tumor) metastasises to other parts of the body through blood or lymph fluid, thereby causing multiple system complications.
The need of the hour is advances in cancer therapy that prolong survival of the patient while ensuring maintenance of quality of life. It is imperative to not only treat the primary source of cancer or tumor but also metastasis in order to achieve tangible results. Immunotherapy is one such ground-breaking advance which harnesses the power of cells of the immune system and trains them to specifically attack cancerous cells.
“In cancer, tissues express several antigens which can be targeted by immunotherapy. Dendritic cells, natural killer cells etc, which are cells of the innate immune system are capable of inducing, sustaining and regulating T cell responses which then target cancer cells. These cells can be given as vaccines after isolation from the patients’ body and loading them with antigens. These antigen loaded immune cells home to lymphoid organs where they activate T cells and result in antitumor immunity and clinical response,” explains Dr Pradeep Mahajan, regenerative medicine researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt Ltd.
Specificity and generation of long term immune surveillance against cancer cells is the chief goal of immunotherapy. Treatment using dendritic cell, natural killer cell vaccine is just one form of targeted immunotherapy. Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T cells, monoclonal antibodies, immune checkpoint inhibitors and other non-specific immunotherapies are also being researched for cases of malignancy.
“StemRx aims to explore recent advances in cancer therapy and is collaborating with national and international organisations to bring technologies into our country. StemRx has launched the first CliniMACS Prodigy system in India, which is a certified GMP-grade cell manufacturing system that simplifies isolation of immune system cells (T cells) for subsequent use in immunotherapy. StemRx has also collaborated with CBC, Japan to bring in the Cellex NK cell technology to India. With these advances, we will soon be able to conquer the deadly disease,” adds Dr Mahajan.
“Metastasis develops when cancer cells break away from the site of original (primary) tumor and travel to a different part of the body by entering the lymphatic system or via blood. High grade cancer indicates the aggressive biological behaviour of the disease. When cancer spreads to a new location, it is still named after the area of the body where it has started. For example: a person with breast cancer that has spread to the bones is said to have a stage 4 breast cancer with bone metastases. If a cancer has spread widely throughout the body before the primary is discovered it is termed as cancer of unknown primary origin. Thus metastatic cancer can be only diagnosed once all the investigations related to Tumour, Node and Metastasis (TNM) are done,” puts in Dr Adwait Gore, medical oncologist, Zen Hospital.
As Sonali undergoes a course of treatment in New York, we, her fans and well-wishers, remain hopeful and optimistic that the actor will fight off cancer and emerge victorious
PS: There are no full stops at the end of the story for a reason for there should be no full stops in life