When Ajoy Deka* reported to Jorhat Medical College Hospital (JMCH) in Jorhat, Assam, he was in terrible pain. He had difficulty swallowing and was unable to move about on his own. A resident of Guwahati, Ajoy had oral cancer and had been undergoing treatment at a local hospital. After the initial treatment, his family shifted him to alternative treatment therapy where his condition worsened. So much so that it began to affect his day-to-day activities.
With medical costs going up, Ajoy’s family was looking for affordable treatment when a family friend recommended JMCH to them. It was at JMCH that the medical professionals realised that Ajoy had no idea what he was suffering from – frightened of what his reaction might be, his family had not even mentioned that he had cancer.
That was when the Palliative Care Unit (PCU) at JMCH swung into action, offering counselling services to Ajoy and his family. The PCU team helped Ajoy to become mentally ready to face the challenge of his illness. The team’s support enabled Ajoy and his family to accept reality and move forward.
The PCU, the first in a public health facility in Jorhat, was launched at JMCH by the Tata Trusts’ Cancer Care Programme in July 2019. The team there was trained on palliative care services but the unit had to overcome another block. Palliative care was a concept that was unheard of by the locals, much less experienced by them. The PCU team realised that they had to build community awareness of the need for counselling and palliative care in cancer.
The objective of the PCU is to improve the quality index of life for both patients and caregivers by providing physical, emotional and spiritual support. The team collaborates with local district healthcare providers to work together with patients and ensure a higher level of holistic relief from illness.
For Ajoy and his family, PCU was a godsend. That support, and the excellent treatment and care provided by JMCH, helped them tremendously. Ajoy’s family decided to restart his conventional treatment. Gradually, his health improved and he was sent back to Guwahati to continue treatment.
Back home, Ajoy completed his chemotherapy and radiation protocols, with the PCU team providing guidance from Jorhat. Having come to terms with his illness, and with certain lifestyle modifications, Ajoy is now leading a normal life.
Ajoy and his family are just one among many patients and families whose lives have been changed positively by the care and support they received from the PCU and the Tata Trusts’ Cancer Care programme.
The Jorhat PCU team is also collaborating with the National Health Mission in a pilot project in Titabor block. The aim is to train and build the capacity of accredited social health activists (ASHAs), auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs) and community health officers in palliative care. Building knowledge about cancer, confidence in treatment protocols and improving the family’s ability to support the patient – this is the way that the PCU is helping cancer patients and their caregivers in the Assam region.
*name changed to protect privacy