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Meet Chitrika De Mel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chitrika De Mel.

Hi Chitrika, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I quite by accident felt an unusual lump on my left breast in 2006 and that led me to see our family physician who examined me and asked me to see a surgeon who also checked me out and ordered an FNB. That report indicated it was a malignant lump and I had to do a couple of other tests which further proved I tested positive for Cancer.

At the time no family or extended family had gone through cancer and it was something new to us. I must say the surgeon explained what the procedure is and set a date for surgery which I did and subsequently he referred me to an Oncologist.

My real journey with cancer started here. The Oncologist explained to me what my journey would be in detail and that was a bit depressing. My husband who was a huge strength to me reassured me that we can overcome this as explained by the doctor. I had three sons aged 15,13 and 7 years and we had to tell them what was to follow.

The most difficult part of my journey was losing my hair which was about 16″ long and thick to the treatment I was to go through. With the first dose of Chemotherapy within a week to 10 days have had a bath and was brushing my hair it just fell like a cap falling of my head and loss of appetite, discoloration of the skin, and other side effects.

This was a harrowing experience and the sad part of it was my second son who used to keep curling my hair as a little boy was very upset and collected it all in a bag in the hope I could use it in some form.

Life continued with it all and the stigma of it all was a bit tough as I noticed a lot of unwanted comments and looks were coming my way as I walked around with a bald head other than when going to my youngest son’s school for a meeting when I wore a Jataa so I would not have him face embarrassment.

With visits to my Oncologist every month and gradually three months and then not as frequently he was happy with my progress and I too had gained an appetite and had my hair back and was leading a normal life when a friend of mine sent me a flyer for an orientation with an organization supporting those with this dreaded disease.

That was a huge turning point in my life as I thought I should share my experience with others and assure people that cancer is not equivalent to death and if detected early you can be cured.

So I joined as a volunteer with the Indira Cancer Trust as a volunteer helping them out with the hair and wig donation program from almost the inception and to date am there but now handle the media and advocacy program.

I had the good fortune to be selected by the trust to represent them through the NCD Alliance for a training program in Geneva -OUR VIEWS OUR VOICES which in turn helps our advocacy.

We at the Trust run 20+ programs where we have Cancer patients walking in for support ranging from Natural hair wigs to breast prostheses to medicine, supporting them with transport as lots travel from far and wide to visit the main Apeksha Hospital situated within walking distance to our Trust office. We also support them with packs of dry rations birthday gifts for children with cancer and even support for funeral expenses.

I may also mention we are constructing the first Paediatric palliative care center in Sri Lanka adjacent to the hospital and this was an initiative of a group of Professionals SLAMNA who are based in California. At this juncture, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my story and reiterate that Cancer is not the end of the road if detected early. You can visit our websites indiracancertrust.org or suwaarana.org to check out the work we do.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Initially, it was a tough ride but I must say my husband and family were with me through it all. The surgery per se was not difficult but post-surgery was having to go through chemotherapy and radiation and the side effects one has to endure.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
As explained I was fortunate to have attended a program run by the Indira Cancer Trust to volunteer for the programs they run It is a very rewarding journey as we deal with patients with cancer and lend support in various forms to them and their families. Something I have great pleasure in is seeing them walking out of our doors with a smile and satisfaction.

I would say my journey with cancer was a turning point as that was what led me to join this Trust that does so much for patients riddled with this disease. All this can be achieved as we have very sincere donors who support us in many ways.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
I would like to mention that don’t step back from what you started as it is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience if you do join an organization such as ours as a volunteer

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