World Cancer Day

Tomorrow is World Cancer Day, an international observance that takes place every year. The day is observed to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. The day is organised by the Union for International Cancer Control or UICC to support the goals of the World Cancer Declaration, written in 2008. The primary goal of World Cancer Day is to increase awareness about the disease and significantly reduce illness and death caused by cancer as well as an opportunity to rally the international community to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer. This can include things like promoting healthy lifestyles, increasing access to cancer screenings and treatments, and investing in cancer research. The day is observed by the United Nations.

World Cancer Day was established on 4 February 2000 at the World Cancer Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium, held in Paris. The Charter of Paris Against Cancer, which was created to promote research, prevent cancer, and improve patient services, also included an article establishing the anniversary of the document’s official signing as World Cancer Day. This was signed at the Summit by the then General Director of UNESCO, Kōichirō Matsuura, and then French President Jacques Chirac. World Cancer Day targets misinformation, raises awareness and reduces stigma.

Cancer is a disease which occurs when changes in a group of normal cells within the body lead to uncontrolled, abnormal growth forming a lump called a tumour; this is true of all cancers except leukaemia which is cancer of the blood. If left untreated, tumours can grow and spread into the surrounding normal tissue, or to other parts of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatic systems, and can affect the digestive, nervous and circulatory systems or release hormones that may affect body function.

Cancer tumours can be divided into three groups: benign, malignant or precancerous. Benign tumours are not cancerous and rarely threaten life. They tend to grow quite slowly, do not spread to other parts of the body and are usually made up of cells quite similar to normal or healthy cells. They will only cause a problem if they grow very large, become uncomfortable or press on other organs. Malignant tumours are faster growing than benign tumours and can spread and destroy neighbouring tissue. Cells of malignant tumours can break off from the primary tumour and spread to other parts of the body through a process known as metastasis. Upon invading healthy tissue at the new site they continue to divide and grow. These secondary sites are known as metastases and the condition is referred to as metastatic cancer. Precancerous or premalignant describes the condition involving abnormal cells which may or are likely to develop into cancer.

There are five main types of cancer. Carcinoma cancers arise from the epithelial cells which are the lining of cells that help protect or enclose organs. Carcinomas may invade the surrounding tissues and organs and metastasise to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. The most common forms of cancer in this group are breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. A type of malignant tumour of the bone or soft tissue like fat, muscle, blood vessels, nerves and other connective tissues that support and surround organs, the most common forms of sarcoma are leiomyosarcoma, liposarcoma and osteosarcoma. Lymphoma and Myeloma are cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which runs all through the body, and can therefore occur anywhere. Myeloma or multiple myeloma starts in the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies to help fight infection. This cancer can affect the cell’s ability to produce antibodies effectively. Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow, the tissue that forms blood cells. There are several subtypes; common are lymphocytic leukaemia and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Brain and spinal cord cancers are known as central nervous system cancers. Some are benign while others can grow and spread.

Cancers can be caused by many different factors and, as with many other illnesses, most cancers are the result of exposure to several different causal factors. Around one-third of cancer cases can be prevented by reducing behavioural and dietary risks. Modifiable risk factors include the drinking of alcohol, being overweight or obese, diet and nutrition, physical activity, tobacco, ionising radiation, workplace hazards and infection. Non-modifiable risk factors include age, cancer-causing substances or carcinogens in the body, genetics, and one’s immune system.

With so many different types of cancers, the symptoms are varied and depend on where the disease is located. However, there are some key signs and symptoms to look out for, including unusual lumps or swelling, coughing, breathlessness or difficulty swallowing, changes in bowel habits, unexpected bleeding, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, pain or aches, new moles or changes to a mole, complications with urinating, unusual breast changes, appetite loss, a sore or ulcer that won’t heal, heartburn or indigestion and heavy night sweats.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide with 10 million people dying from it every year, which is more than the deaths because of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. By 2030, experts project cancer deaths to rise to 13 million. More than 40% of cancer-related death could be preventable as they are linked to modifiable risk factors. At least one-third of all deaths related to cancer could be prevented through routine screening, and early detection and treatment. 70% of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle-income countries and millions of lives could be saved each year by implementing resource-appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and treatment. The total annual economic cost of cancer is estimated at US$1.16 trillion.

The theme for the years 2022-2024 is Close the care gap which focuses on eliminating the difference in access to cancer care services faced by populations of various groups of country income, age, gender, ethnicity etc. The World Cancer Day theme is a multi-year campaign that means more exposure and engagement, more opportunities to build global awareness and ultimately more impact. In 2022, the first year of the Close the Care Gap campaign was all about understanding and recognising the inequities in cancer care around the globe. This was the year to question the status quo and help reduce stigma; to listen to the perspectives of the people living with cancer and their communities and let those lived experiences guide our thoughts and actions. This year is all about uniting voices and taking action. These actions can take countless forms, from motivating neighbours to provide transport to cancer treatment for a fellow resident or ensuring that healthy and affordable food options are offered at the local school. In 2024, the last year of the campaign will bring attention to a higher level by raising voices to engage leaders and become lifelong advocates fully equipped to push for lasting change.

In recent years, cities have begun to support the day by lighting up important landmarks in orange and blue. In 2019, 55 landmarks in 37 cities participated in the landmark lighting initiative and at least 60 governments officially observe World Cancer Day. The event invites everyone to take action, make a pledge and support the cancer movement. By doing this, it aims to reduce the number of premature deaths from cancer and improve the quality of life for cancer patients around the world.

In My Hands Today…

My Beloved World – Sonia Sotomayor

The first Latinx (Puerto Rican) and third woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

Here is the story of a precarious childhood, with an alcoholic father (who would die when she was 9) and a devoted but overburdened mother, and of the refuge a little girl took from the turmoil at home with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. But it was when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes that the precocious Sonia recognized she must ultimately depend on herself. She would learn to give herself the insulin shots she needed to survive and soon imagined a path to a different life.

With only television characters for her professional role models, and little understanding of what was involved, she determined to become a lawyer, a dream that would sustain her on an unlikely course, from valedictorian of her high school class to the highest honors at Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York County District Attorney’s office, private practice, and appointment to the Federal District Court before the age of 40.

She speaks with warmth and candor about her invaluable mentors, a failed marriage, and the modern version of extended family she has created from cherished friends and their children. Through her still-astonished eyes, America’s infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-invention and self-discovery.

Short Story: Home is Where the Heart is

Vatsala took one last look around the house. Every room, every corner had loads of memories and she wanted to savour each one of them before she left. She knew she will not return to this house and wanted to fill her head, heart and soul with the very essence of the house. She had entered this home as a blushing bride more than half a century back and now, it was time to leave the place where she had given birth to her children, brought them up and gotten them married. She could see her children as babies and then as adults and then her children’s children, her grandchildren laughing and playing in the house.

Hurry up Amma, otherwise we will miss the flight” This was from her son Arun, her firstborn who had come down from his important job in London to help her and Vasu, her husband move to a retirement community. Vasu’s fall a few months back had cemented the arguments the couple had with their children, Arun and daughter, Aruna who lived in Houston in the United States of America.

Giving one last look at the nook that housed her Gods and Goddesses, Vatsala shook her head and left, locking the door. She passed the keys to her neighbour and best friend, Shilpa and after asking her to look after her house left without a backward glance.

By the end of a tiring day, Vatsala and Vasu, helped by Arun, finally reached Rose Garden, their new home in the southern city of Coimbatore. Too tired to do anything or even look around, Vatsala soon got into bed and fell into a deep, but tired sleep.

The next morning was busy. Their things from their home were to arrive and aided by her husband and son, Vatsala tried to make this flat as welcoming as her own home. The couple also completed all formalities and medical procedures required to stay in the retirement community.

A couple of days later, Arun left for London, after ensuring his parents were settled in their new home. Slowly, Vatsala and Vasu started integrating themselves into the complex and their residents. Every once in a while, Vatsala would look back and think of her house and start to feel sad again. But she would pull herself up for Vasu. The retirement community was not too big, it had around 100 couples like them and most importantly most of the residents were similar to them so that made things easier in getting adjusted to the community and make friends.

Over the next year, Vatsala and Vasu started enjoying life at Rose Garden. They made friends, started taking classes that were offered including group exercise classes, and meditation classes and most importantly started spending more time with each other. Now that they were free from the tasks that take up daily mundane activities, they had time to sit down with each other, really talk and learn about the other that they had not known even after being together for more than 50 years.

Soon, it was the first anniversary at Rose Garden and during a party at the community to celebrate this, Vatsala and Vasu were surrounded by new friends, who in a year became as close as her friends back home. Their children, Arun and Aruna were also there with their families, their grandchildren cheering at this new version of paati and tatha, who were so much more fun to be around. A surprise was Vatsala’s best friend from back home, Shilpa who was pleasantly surprised to see the change in her friend and also bummed that Vatsala now had new best friends. “I am going to buy a flat here soon, Vatsu”, Shilpa explained. “I am going to work on Sumeet and we will join you within the next six months, you just wait and watch!

Surrounded by family and friends, both old and new, Vatsala was suddenly reminded of the old saying, “Home is where the heart is”. She realised she had not thought of her old home for months now and when she did, it was tinted with the soft glow of nostalgia and not with the profound sadness she had in the initial months.

Yes, definitely, this is home now and this is where my heart is in the golden years of my life, surrounded by family and dear friends”, mused Vatsala as she was pulled forward by her grandchildren to cut the cake brought specially for the occasion.

In My Hands Todday…

The Queen: Her Life – Andrew Morton

Painfully shy, Elizabeth Windsor’s personality was well suited to her youthful ambition of living quietly in the country, raising a family, and caring for her dogs and horses. But when her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated, she became heir to the throne—embarking on a journey that would test her as a woman and queen.

Ascending to the throne at only 25, this self-effacing monarch navigated endless setbacks, family conflict, and occasional triumphs throughout her 70 years as the Queen of England. As her mettle was tested, she endeavored to keep the monarchy relevant culturally, socially, and politically, often in the face of resistance from inside the institution itself. And yet the greatest challenges she faced were often inside her own family, forever under intense scrutiny; from rumors about her husband’s infidelity, her sister’s marital breakdown, Princess Diana’s tragic death, to the recent departure of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Now in The Queen, renowned biographer Andrew Morton takes an in-depth look at Britain’s longest reigning monarch, exploring the influence Queen Elizabeth had on both Britain and the rest of the world for much of the last century. From leading a nation struggling to restore itself after the devastation of the second World War to navigating the divisive political landscape of the present day, Queen Elizabeth was a reluctant but resolute queen. This is the story of a woman of unflagging self-discipline who will long be remembered as mother and grandmother to Great Britain, and one of the greatest sovereigns of the modern era.

Instagram Interludes

Regular readers will know Lord Ganesh is my ishtadev. I collect his statues whenever I see something different or unique and I have been collecting for decades now. My family also will buy statues when they see a different one and over the years, I’ve managed to fill up a cupboard full.

This year, I will showcase some of the statues. Here’s the first batch.