“Tell that dietary tip,” Uma Babusekhar urged Sundari Vishwanathan. “Eat like a lion and …”
Sundari obliged. While most of us might use a simple phrase such as “eat foods that are high in fiber,” the trainers at Vasantha Memorial Trust have a more colorful way of putting it. I gently requested them to reconsider their word choice. Grinning brightly, they effused, “Eat like a lion and eliminate like an elephant.”
In Tamil they say, “singham maari saapidinga , yaanai maari laddhi podunga”
“What this means,” she explained, “is that we should eat only when we are hungry. Think of the lion. Even if all the animals are present before him, he will not eat unless he is hungry. And what should we eat? Just see the elephant, how much it eliminates, eating grasses and such. We should eat more vegetables so that for every 100 grams we eat, we eliminate 80 grams. ”
Well the numbers may be more figurative than literal but I did look up the elimination habits of the elephant. Indeed, it is prodigious and has many uses such as dispersing seeds, making paper and other things I had not imagined.
Driven by a single-minded wish to prevent others from suffering what he and his family suffered, Dr Ramanathan Jayaraman started the Vasantha Memorial Trust in honor of his mother soon after she passed away due to cancer at the early age of 50. Recognizing the role fear plays in preventing people from getting screened and even collecting test results, he has developed training programs to make people aware of the importance of early detection and the cure rates for various kind of cancers. The Trust’s annual survivors’ day, in which cancer survivors speak publicly about their experience, plays a major role in encouraging more people to overcome their fear of the very word cancer. The Trust organizes screenings and also helps arrange treatment, through its own facilities and in cooperation with government or private hospitals.
In 2015, AID supported free screening for women from poorer sections of the housing colonies and slums in Vikhroli, where the Vasantha Cancer Center in Mumbai is located. The Trust also operates a center in Coimbatore and a hospital in Chennai. We visited the Chennai facility and met the nurses and training staff, who have been promoting breast cancer awareness.
Awareness is a powerful thing. When you consider how important early detection is in cancer treatment you can understand the zeal with which the team at Vasantha Memorial Trust promotes the breast self-examination.
Each trainer explains to women, one-on-one:
- rate of breast cancer incidence and risk factors
- how to examine one’s breast and detect lumps in early stages (pea-size)
- that not all lumps are cancerous, and one should not be afraid to get tested
- that if detected early, breast cancer can usually be cured
Every woman they train takes a quiz to make sure she has understood the value of the self-check as well as the correct way to do it. At the office they had stacks of thousands of completed questionnaires. They also ask for phone numbers and do spot checks to make sure women have actually understood. They use the feedback to follow up with the trainers.
I asked them to train me. Though I have seen the notices in doctors’ offices and been doing the checks myself, I learned a few new things such as why one should do this check once a month and not, for example, every day (because one might not detect small differences if one checks daily).
In 2016 they plan to train 100,000 women in the breast-self examination. Each woman will also compete the quiz after the training and Vasantha Memorial Trust plans to analyze the results and see what they can learn and improve.