A few days ago, Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, the Congress President, returned to New Delhi after a month-long stay abroad ---presumed to be in New York--- for medical treatment, which necessitated a surgery. According to party spokespersons, she has recovered well from her ailment and has started the process of resuming her normal political activities. We wish her well as she resumes her normal routine.
2. The nature of her ailment, which necessitated a surgery, has not been disclosed to the public, but it is widely believed that the treatment was for cancer in an undisclosed part of her body.
3.I am writing this article as a cancer patient myself, who has been under treatment for 22 months now for metastasised (widely spread before detected) cancer in the lower part of the abdomen. Before it was detected, the cancer had affected my prostate, the urinary bladder, a nearby bone and a lymph node. Fortunately, it has not caused me any pain so far. My body has been responding well to the treatment.
4. For a month after my cancer was detected in 2009, I was out of circulation, but, thereafter, even while undergoing the treatment, I have resumed my normal physical and intellectual activities. I have been writing as regularly as before, participating in seminars and TV discussions as frequently as before and travelling inside India as often as before. The quality of my life has not changed in any significant manner as a result of my cancer and the treatment.
5. What I have learnt during this period is that cancer is like any other physical ailment. It is not a tragedy. It is not the end of the world. It is not something to be ashamed of. One can fight cancer as one fights any other ailment and still lead an active and energetic life.
6. From the beginning, I have been very transparent about my cancer. I take the initiative in sharing not only with my friends and relatives, but also with my readers and the general public news of my treatment and the progress that I have been making in my fight against cancer. After every quarterly medical check-up, I myself post in my blog details of my condition as told to me by my doctor. I have written two articles on my fight against cancer, posted them in my blog and widely disseminated them through the Internet. I have seen to it that there is no unnecessary and undesirable mystery about my cancer. Mystery gives rise to avoidable speculation, which is not advisable for a public personage.
7. The cheerful manner in which I have been fighting it and voluntarily sharing the information with others has given me a certain pride in myself. I also like to think that it has enhanced the respect in which I am held by others.
8.The alleged secrecy surrounding the exact nature of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi’s ailment and the details of the progress in her treatment were discussed in some detail and with considerable sympathy by Ms.Nirmala Subramanian of “The Hindu” in an editorial page article earlier this week. She needs to be complimented for handling a personally and politically sensitive subject with considerable understanding and seriousness ---- while taking care not to hurt the feelings of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi and her family members.
9. Mrs.Sonia Gandhi and her family have a right to privacy in matters relating to her ailment and her medical treatment. Since she occupies an important position as the leader of a party which is leading the present coalition Government, the public too has a right to know as much as possible about her health. It is not obscene curiosity. It is a way of reassuring ourselves that Mrs.Sonia Gandhi has been responding well to the treatment and that her normal personal and political life will not be affected in any way by the treatment.
10. Till some years ago, all over the world, cancer was treated as something to be kept a secret. People diagnosed with cancer often used to disappear from public view and avoid contacts and sharing with other human beings. Now, the attitude to cancer has changed and continues to change.
11. Doctors and social activists discourage cancer patients from withdrawing into a shell. They encourage them to share freely with others the details of their ailment and the treatment and to continue to lead as active and as energetic a life as possible.
12. Cancer has to be fought and can be fought successfully without allowing your life-style to be affected significantly. In the fight against cancer, the psychological aspect is as important as the medicinal aspect. Fight, share and be active--- that is the message of today to all cancer patients.
13. In our country, many hospitals are encouraging cancer patients to develop the right mental attitude to strengthen their capability for handling the psychological dimension. A couple of days ago, a Chennai hospital had organised a get-together of cancer patients as part of such an exercise.
14.In our country, knowledge of cancer is still limited. As a result, many ---patients as well as their relatives---look upon cancer as a tragedy and as the beginning of the end of life. Doctors are trying to reassure people that it is not.
15. In the fight against cancer and in the campaign to spread awareness of the importance of will power and the right mental attitude to the ailment, Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, her children and party can play a very important role by fighting and sharing. Mrs.Sonia Gandhi is already on the way to becoming her usual active self after her return from the US.
16. She should not remain satisfied with merely resuming an active personal and political life. She should with gusto take over the leadership in public of the fight against cancer. She cannot do this effectively if she and those close to her continue to maintain secrecy about her ailment and the treatment. She must share the details with the public and contribute to the fight against cancer.
17. That’s what Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi would have done in similar circumstances. That’s what Mrs.Sonia Gandhi should do. As the opening shot of the exercise, she should let herself be interviewed on a good and responsible TV channel on her ailment and treatment . She should use this opportunity to convey to the public her determination to serve the people as before despite the ailment. ( 25-9-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )