Compassion and service – IJPN volunteer of the year

Categories: Community Engagement.

I am a volunteer in palliative care for terminal cancer patients in rural India. Volunteering has always been fundamental to the palliative care movement.

It is vital in extending compassion and expanding the range of services on offer to those living with a terminal illness and their caregivers.

An ordinary village

I was born in an ordinary village in West Bengal, India, about 135km from Kolkata where sanitary facilities such as proper drinking water were not available. The village had no electricity, houses were of mud walls with thatched straw rooves.

People had no means of transportation except their own legs on muddy ‘kachha’ roads. In the rainy season, even those kachha roads would be submerged and people have to move about on banana stem rafts.

Though the conditions have improved now, it is not much different from what they were when I was born. My village saw electricity only last year.

In spite of these deficiencies and difficulties, I loved and still love my village.

My studies and current work

After finishing my school and college education under much difficulty I joined Tamralipta Health Home, a private nursing home in the nearby town of Tamluk.

I worked there for five years, before joining MAS Clinic and Hospital in the same town, which now has a small cancer unit, a small dialysis unit and a small ICU, apart from other common treatment facilities.

At present I am working in the oncology unit of this hospital as part of the palliative care staff. We also run a non-profit organization, Narikeldaha Prayas of which I am the president.

A day in my working life

My daily routine consist of getting up between 3 to 5am early in the morning, and taking a bike or bus or train whatever transportation is available to reach the home of a terminal patient who needs some kind of palliative care.

This may include draining of pleural or ascitic fluid, feeding through Ryle’s tube, catheterization, IV fluids, dressing, etc.

As well as this, I also attend terminally ill patients who needs some kind of palliative care at any time of the day or night.

Over the last seven to eight years I have made about 3000 home visit for this type of care. Apart from this, we are available for telephonic communication with these patients from our nodal centre 24 hours a day.

Some sad things

I would like to bring to notice some of the sad and unfortunate things I have come across over these years during such visits.

I have come across patients who tried to end their life by hanging or by taking overdose of sedative medication. I saw a patient who cut his growing tumour with a kitchen knife. And I have seen of such patients suffering utter neglect from their family members and neighbours.

Such incidents have inspired me to dedicate myself to do whatever possible through patient support, patient education, educating and motivating the family members and neighbours through whatever means available.

Narikeldaha Prayas

Narikeldaha Prayas as a palliative care organisation in our local community in India is working with all types of advanced cancer. In order to achieve our mission, we believe that scientific progress must be complemented by sound public policy and advocacy.

The organisation works with our staff, volunteers, grantees, doctors and cancer survivors in our rural district of West Bengal. It also provides affordable cancer palliative care services as per local requirement and availability. 

I am thrilled to be part of this dynamic program that educates employees in their workplace about palliative care and empowers them to be proactive.

This work, and all the work at Prayas, is challenging. It is for a great purpose and is incredibly rewarding for me.  

It is greatly rewarding for me to be able to work with cancer patients and volunteers and to give them the necessary encouragement and information.

I’m happy to work for an organisation that helps people cope at a very difficult time in their lives.

A wonderful group

My areas of particular interest include counseling, organising, training, and support services for people with advanced disease. As a clinical social worker, I have worked more than 10 years in this field, and I hope to build a program that meets the unique needs of people with advanced disease.

I have started Prayas which includes myself, my friends, survivors and their relatives and some volunteers most of whom work part-time.

This is a wonderful group and I love working with them. We were able to conduct educational programmes, awareness programmes and meetings for people with cancer, and cancer survivors’ meetings. We have also increased our community support and efforts.  

Now I am able to work with a wonderfully dedicated staff to enrich all our programs with increased diversity. Prayas continues to amaze me with all the love, support and hope we bring daily to advanced stage cancer patients and their families and friends.

The best of everything

I have spent much of my career and volunteer time advocating for hope, support and empowerment to people affected by cancers. I had the best of everything – the best advice in every little step starting from the surgery and going through chemo, radiation and recovery, and I had the best support I could ever have.  

I was fortunate to get the best of everything including the best advice, best surgeons, expert oncologist advising chemo recitation, etc. and I was exactly the right place at the right time.

Lastly I would like to thank all the amazing, passionate and dedicated people I have met in my journey. They have all given their very precious time and knowledge generously and in doing so they have inspired me to continue and enhance my knowledge and practice of palliative care.

To find out more about Narikeldaha Prayas, contact Aditya.

Read more about the IJPN awards on their website