His fate on his face: Help and hope for oral cancer

Chandran was diagnosed with oral cancer two years ago. It started as a small lesion inside his mouth, which he ignored until it started to disfigure his face – a biopsy confirmed it was squamous cell carcinoma. 

He was forced to quit his job as a school bus driver and was admitted to MNJ Institute in Hyderabad, India in May 2016. Chandran underwent chemo radiotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the cancer and a small part of his mouth on the left side – it left an obvious, asymmetrical bulge on his face. 

Like many men in India, he postponed treatment so long, the cancer was too advanced to give him a fighting chance. A reality that makes the palliative care that Two Worlds Cancer supports at MNJ Institute and the Kumudini Devi Hospice, so critical.

Born in 1979 as the youngest member of a poor family of five in the city of Warangal in South India, Chandran lost his father to alcohol when he was 15 years old and he was left with a mother and two elder sisters to support. Life was hard and had no room for illness.

Illness, and cancer in particular, is a very stigmatized issue in many parts of rural India. After his initial treatment, Chandran spent the next year at MNJ and the Kumudini Devi Hospice and neither family nor friends visited him even once. When he was first diagnosed with oral cancer, his two sisters and their families abandoned him. He also no longer sees his school age daughter, Rohini, and misses her desperately, even having a tattoo of her name on his arm. While he was there, the staff and volunteers at the Kumudini Devi Hospice became his only family.

With no family in sight, a few months into his stay at the hospice, the staff took Chandran to the movies on a Saturday evening, which cheered him up. Some of the staff at the started bringing in special food that he liked. He started walking in the garden surrounding the centre and said that he wanted to help with housekeeping. There are still days when he lies in bed not talking to anyone, but there are also days when he smiles and participates.

With his pain under control with medication, Chandran briefly and joyfully left the hospice to visit his sisters and celebrate the festival of Dussehra with them in their village – a 150-km train ride from Hyderabad.

Chandran’s cancer is in remission at present. We all take great comfort knowing that, thanks to you, our generous donors, Chandran and so many others will live their lives pain-free, giving them hope for quality time with family and friends. 

This story was adapted from “His fate on his face” by Dr. Jean Jacob, a Two Worlds Cancer Collaboration-funded doctor at MNJ Institute.