Friends of Max’s Patient Advocate of the Month for November 2021 is Mr Dhirendranath Chakroborthy, our City Chapter Leader from Kolkata.
Mr Chakroborthy, or Dhiren Da as he is fondly called by Friends of Max members, was born in East Bengal (present day Bangladesh). At a very early age he had to deal with the loss of his mother and migration to India. His new life started in Uttar Para, a small town outside Kolkata, West Bengal. He started his schooling here and was a very meritorious student, never having stood second in class. For his brilliant academic record, he was felicitated by Prafulla Chandra Sen, then Chief Minister of West Bengal. He went on to complete his graduation from Raja Peary Mohan College, for which he travelled 9 kms on foot every day.
Dhiren Da’s first job was at the Durgapur Steel Factory in West Bengal. By now, he was suffering from various health complications such as weakness, constipation, indigestion and loss of appetite. In 2001, on his return from a business trip to South India, he experienced severe body pain accompanied with vomiting. He went for a blood test which revealed his WBC count at 60,000. The pathologist diagnosed him with CML.
“I did not have a wife or children to care for me and admitted myself to the B.R. Singh Hospital”, says Dhiren Da, who was put under the care of Dr GS Bhattacharya. He underwent chemotherapy, which he describes as ‘intolerable’, but did not let negative thoughts get the better of him. “One morning, I was lying on a bed in the hospital and felt a hand on my forehead. I opened my eyes to the angelic presence of Sanjoy Mukherjee”, he says, about the then ADRM of Eastern Railway, Howrah, with whom he had worked in the past. Mr Mukherjee assured him at the time of his discharge from the hospital, “Don’t worry, Dada. I will arrange the best available treatment in India for you”.
After three days, Dhiren Da was informed that he had to go to Bombay for further treatment, and arrived at the Tata Memorial Hospital in March 2002. He met Dr S.H. Advani the same day, who took his bone marrow sample for testing and confirmed his diagnosis with CML. He describes his mental state at that point, “I said to myself that there are more than 500 diseases in this world and CML is just one among them. Besides, I was receiving the best treatment in the country. I had nothing to fear”.
Dr Advani started treating Dhiren Da with interferon but his body could not handle the drug. While at the hospital, he would talk to the other patients in his ward. His co-patient, Sanjay, whom he remembers very fondly, was undergoing a very painful treatment. Dhiren Da would massage his body at night which helped him sleep for a few minutes. Sanjay passed away a few months later, but his family, grateful for the comfort given by Dhiren Da, visited his house in Uttar Para and still keep in touch with him.
It was later in 2002, when Dr Advani began treating him with another dose of interferon, but it was too painful for him, that Dhiren Da was referred to Dr Tapan Saikia. Dr Saikia forwarded his case to Viji Venkatesh of The Max Foundation. He recalls his memory of meeting her – “I met with Viji at the Novartis Office in Royal Insurance Building, Bombay. She was the first person ever who consoled me, and that gave me more strength”. Dhiren Da signed up for the GIPAP programme. After a few days, his case was approved and he started treatment with the magic bullet – Glivec.
Within six months of starting treatment with Glivec, he achieved Molecular Remission and Cytogenic Remission. Since then, Dhiren Da has attended every meeting organized by the Friends of Max and The Max Foundation – not just in Kolkata, but all over India. He was instrumental in organizing these meetings and always shared his experiences to encourage fellow patients and participated in discussions with them. Dhiren Da has also been an ardent supporter of Chai for Cancer over the years.
When asked if he had any special experiences with Friends of Max, he says, “I am thankful to The Max Foundation for providing me with this miraculous medicine for 20 years now. It is a miracle that I am still alive and able to talk to you and it is only possible because of The Max Foundation and Friends of Max. This is an amazing organization of people who are dedicating their time and energy to uplift patients from this condition. I am glad to have met and befriended such a kind hearted group of people.”
Dhiren Da has now retired from service and lives in his Kolkata home with his niece who looks after him. He still hasn’t lost his mind set of helping patients in need. Most recently, he helped a young patient diagnosed with Oral Cancer by taking him to Tata Medical Centre for consultations and also helped him undergo surgery. The patient is now recovering at the hospital.
He has a poignant advice for his fellow patients – “Don’t lose your mental strength. Presently, there are medicines to help us overcome this disease. It is important for us to take it with sincerity. It is equally important to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle as that helps us build immunity against various diseases”.