A triumph over cancer behind them, and countless battles ahead. That is the bond shared by Kalyan Roy, Mary Ann Dasgupta, Somasree Roy and Rama Majumdar. They are now friends of those who have no one to turn to.
Mary Ann, of Jadavpur, recalls she was not shattered to know that she was suffering from breast cancer. It only strengthened her resolve to fight the odds.
'I can vividly remember the day I was operated upon ' August 20, 2001. It was my 64th birthday. I was given three dates for the surgery but I chose my birthday. I wanted to be reborn and fight the disease. And help others who are neglected and suffering,' recounted Mary Ann, former principal of Modern High School and Calcutta Girls' School.
Overcoming adversities, including advancing age, Mary Ann has been helping ailing children by funding their studies. 'I have designed teaching material for children who cannot afford books. These books are distributed free at all Anganwadi centres,' she said.
The former principal has also roped in elite schools of the city to support the cause. The well-off students are requested to give away to poor children old clothes that are in good condition. 'I just handed over 10,000 such garments to needy children. I hope to carry on with the work all my life,' she added.
Somasree Roy, in her 40s, began her fight against cancer with an operation on her son's birthday on October 21, 2000. She then went on to open a hospice for cancer patients in Santoshpur a year-and-a-half ago. But the residents of Survey Park closed the centre down on the pretext that cancer was 'an infectious disease'.
Somasree was forced to move to Narendrapur, where she opened a home. 'I have pledged to fight on,' said Somasree, who often spends from her pocket to help the ailing. 'Besides cancer patients, I have eight to 10 aged people staying in the hospice. They had been thrown out of their homes. I also have a tie-up with a hospital and a cancer specialist. I send the patients regularly to them,' she explained.
'It is amazing to see the kind of work Mary Ann and Somasree are doing. At times, we (doctors) are awestruck at their courage and dedication,' said cancer surgeon Gautam Mukhopadhyay.
Kalyan Roy, 56-year-old thyroid cancer survivor from Barrackpore, has taken to counselling three cancer patients a day about ways to conquer the disease. 'He spends from his own pocket to accompany patients to clinics and even arranges their treatment,' said oncologist Subir Gangopadhyay.
After spending a lakh from her bank balance, breast cancer survivor Rama Majumdar, 59, has formed a voluntary foundation with like-minded people. She has so far donated medicine worth Rs 7 to 8 lakh to state-run hospitals for over 300 patients.
'I also extend funds to poor students for their higher studies. I try to boost their morale. I tell them that if I could battle cancer and survive, they can definitely overcome their problems,' Rama signed off.