Walking the cancer journey

As an intern, I'm up for anything. Except for getting coffee. I don't do coffee. Okay, if you asked, I'd get the coffee, but I wouldn't be happy about it! The point is, I'm eager to please and game for anything. So when I found out that a devoted reader from India would be visiting the CURE office on Tuesday, I leapt at the opportunity to interview them. I expected to meet someone who was just interested in a tour and a quick hello, but what I got was an afternoon of enlightenment from a man who has made walking the cancer journey with others his life's mission. Niranjan Parikh has never had cancer. In fact, at 74, he says he's never even experienced a headache--a fact he attributes to his healthy lifestyle. Yet he's dedicated the past 17 years to counseling cancer patients at Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital, one of the largest cancer centers on the subcontinent. More than 50,000 new cancer patients visit the hospital each year and Niranjan, who volunteers his time, is half of a two-person team that supervises the entire pediatric volunteer and social worker support group. For the past five years, in addition to his work with the pediatric oncology division, he has facilitated Ugam, a group of childhood cancer survivors. You might think that such a heavy patient load would diminish his enthusiasm, but Niranjan spends five days a week providing what he calls "the biggest and most important role" of cancer care: communication. As many of our readers know, when it comes to cancer, communication is everything. From understanding your disease and treatment options, to passing the information onto family members and loved ones, communication is an essential and daily part of the cancer journey. So in a country where the patient population speaks more than 14 languages, Niranjan and the medical team definitely have their hands full. Niranjan needs to be able to explain to the patients what's happening to them, which is why he says CURE is like a bible to him, due to the educative value found within. He says that he reads every issue and when the opportunity presents itself, he passes the information onto the family in need. Niranjan, who has traveled to the US every June for the past 10 years or so, spends his time stateside visiting family members and volunteering at prominent cancer organizations to observe how they function and translate that knowledge back to India. It was during his stint at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in California that he found his first issue of CURE. He says he was so impressed by the information provided that he was instantly hooked. After attending a live conference back in 2007, he kept in touch with CURE staff, which is how he wound up at our office on Tuesday afternoon. And although I learned a lot during the short amount of time I spent with Niranjan, the thing I'll take away from our encounter is his passion for what he does. He told me that from childhood, he had no desire for money and material things, however pleasurable, because such pleasures are temporary. Rather, he found lasting joy in serving others. So no matter where you are in your own cancer journeys, I hope you, like Niranjan, have found your joy.Taylor Walker, a graduate of the magazine journalism program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is a summer editorial intern with CURE.To contact, Niranjan Parikh, please email him at niranjan1937@gmail.com.