The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Care where there is no cure
Rati Vajpayi

Touched by personal experience, she changed the course of her life, against all advice. But Dr Rati Vajpayi does not believe in regrets and she has very few of them. After her father-in-law’s death from cancer over two decades ago, she decided to switch from paediatrics to oncology. She hasn’t looked back since.

After her training in paediatrics from National Medical College, she worked as a medical officer at St Mary’s Hospital, but failed to complete her MD due to her father-in-law’s illness. It was then that the 49-year-old decided to become a cancer specialist, “the first woman in the city”, she says, to do so.

“I saw the suffering my father-in-law went through and the lack of information available, particularly from doctors. So I decided to do something about it. If had known then what I do now, I could have eased his pain and not seen him and the whole family go through all that trouble,” says Vajpayi.

It was on to Chandigarh for a MD in oncology, where she was the only woman in the department studying the subject. “Pathology was always my favourite subject, finding out about diseases and how to treat them. So I wanted to contribute to the treatment of a disease that has no cure,” the mother of two adds.

It was not just treating patients, but helping them and their loved ones cope with the consequences that Vajpayi wanted to do. So, she started up the support group Prerak at her clinic on Harrington Row, where former patients were invited to talk to and advise those undergoing treatment. From 1996, Prerak has grown to encompass anyone who has been affected in some way by cancer. One of the means of doing so is through art therapy, “because language can be a barrier”.

When Vajpai’s mother, an active member of Prerak, died soon after being diagnosed with tongue cancer, she decided to concentrate on her activities with the NGO, helping those affected with cancer to “lead normal lives”. After 13 years of service at the Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital, she gave up her job there, and recently closed her clinic. Now, she sits at the Eastern Diagnostic Centre on Free School Street and Woodlands Nursing Home in Alipore. The reason — to expand her work with Prerak.

“There’s so much myth and superstition surrounding cancer that patients are often considered outcasts. Two-thirds of fighting the disease is all about will power, and I have seen it many a time. The environment the patient is in is very important to his/her well-being. Cancer is still a stigma. Things are changing and I am making inroads, but I still get a lot of resistance when I try counselling, because people don’t want to talk about it. At Prerak, we try to explain that death is a game, just like life,” she sums up.

Email This Page