Subir Ranjan Sen – Kolkota, 2008
I knew that cancer was becoming common, but why me?
When I look back at the roller coaster of my life I can honestly say there were neither hard gradients nor steep inclines. As a matter of fact, it has been a rather smooth ride for me, born as I was into a well settled middle class business family with frugal habits and a satisfactory life style. My wife and I were like any other couple taking delight and pride in our young daughter and son and happy to watch them grow and provide for them. I do recollect that during the early months of the year 2000 I was negligent of my business commitments as well as uninterested in my environs. Then came a holiday to Manali accompanied by my friend and his family during the Pujas. It was there that I got an inkling that something was wrong with my body. I was tired and breathless by the slightest exertion. I put it down to age and the lack of oxygen at that height. I had been an enthusiastic traveller all my life and never suffered any such symptoms and so, a question mark arose in my mind. Later I found that even slight bruises were causing large haematomas on my body. On returning to Kolkata I was referred by my friend Dr M K Mukhopadhya to see a haematologist Dr Suhas Majumdar. Little did I think that a visit to this Doctor’s Chamber would cause lightning to strike. I went to collect my blood report from Belle View Clinic the next day. The contents caused me to break into a cold sweat. I confess that I went weak in the knees. It was a confirmed report of Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. At that time all I knew was that Leukaemia was blood cancer- incurable, devastating and terrible.
It had been a balmy day in October 2000 when a sense of disbelief and self-denial swept me. I could not come to terms with this devastating information. The following day I went back to see Dr Majumdar at the Assembly of Gods Church Hospital. He took a blood sample immediately. Within an hour the diagnoses was confirmed. Then he counselled me saying that although there was no positive treatment at that time prolongation of life was possible by the chemotherapy drugs that were available. Interferon was suggested but as the quality of life was low under its treatment, it was suggested I start with a low dose of 3m units twice a week and then increase it. The hopelessness of the situation dawned on me. I realised I had to take stock of the situation and began planning for the future of my family. My first priority was to put my house in order so as to make my demise as economically less devastating as possible.
I am sceptical of alternative medicine and their cure-all formulations and yet back then I clutched at every straw, readily going in for homeopathy and Ayurvedic Medicine. Bad became worse as my WBC count rose to two lakhs. I could no longer wait to go back to allopathic medicine and the treatment began. It was not long before the counts fell to 20,000. This was April 2001. Dr Majumdar was invited to the US during the launch of Glivec that year. He confessed to me that even though he disbelieved the magic bullet theory; he did feel that this drug could give some hope.
The pricing of Glivec was so exorbitant that affordability was a big question.
However, there was one glimmer of hope in this sea of despair. In June 2002 my friend Dr M K Mukhopadhya brought news that Glivec was available at Novartis India’s office at Shakespeare Sarani through a donation programme. Our family friend a former employee of Novartis Mr Sapan Mukherjee helped me with the procedure to receive the Magic Bullet Glivec. Amma ji at the Max Foundation verified my application and regular supply of Glivec followed.
A new chapter in my life, a new Subir Ranjan Sen was born.
Max Foundation in collaboration with the drug maker Novartis offered the medicine free to all who could not afford it. It was a unique instance of access to medication in the world of medicine that so expensive a drug was offered to so many free in their hour of extreme need. Indeed it was a life saver for me. In spite of some side effects, my life fell into its usual slot. The internet is a source of news, views and hope for CML patients on Glivec. I do suffer from a number of side effects but the one that bothers me the most is occasional loss of memory, and feelings of nervousness. Gradually I began to go to the meetings in the programme. The Kolkata group had our first meeting at the Park Hotel during Vijima‘s first visit .Then there was a meeting held in Slat Lake to launch the Friends of Max where our benefactor Pat Gonzales and others of Max’s family were present. I was overwhelmed by the number of my co-sufferers. From then on we would have different meetings at different places. Vijima chaired them all. At one such meeting, perhaps the largest in Kolkata, held at Sujatha Sadan, the doctors and patients shared their experiences and many a doubt was cleared. I participated in all the meetings of the Kolkata chapter. Every one of them was an eye-opener. Other meetings in all major cities link us to our clan members from different environs. In the long interlude and intervening years that have followed, we have lost some of our friends yes, but many more have been added and joined us and the family of Friends of Max. This reality has brought us face to face with our mortality. With hope of a new day we go forward even though the fear of the unknown lurks around us. We are encouraged by our past, live in the present, and look forward to a better future.