It is here that HOPE (Holistic Oncology Patient Empathy) has stepped in with the aim of helping to ease the process. Dr Amish Vora, who worked for years with Tata Memorial in Mumbai and then with Max in Delhi, had noticed the "dehumanisation" that willy-nilly occurs in large hospitals. Patients get reduced to a registration number, a tag around their wrists.
It was in 2011 that Vora came in contact with Aditya Talwar, now 38, a former investment banker who was facing cancer in his wider family and who found Vora by a stroke of luck. Vora seemed to have "fallen out of heaven" for the family that was at its wit's end on how to proceed with treatment for the illness. That's when the seed of HOPE first formed in Talwar's mind. If only a "Vora type of doctor", full of empathy and clarity, could help families navigate the scary waters of this dreaded disease like he'd helped them. What could be better?
It was finally in 2017 that the duo joined hands and the first HOPE clinic was set up with the aim of easing the pain and smoothening the course for cancer patients while offering chemotherapy and a holistic treatment in a non-threatening atmosphere. "Hospitals are great at medical treatment. But we wanted to integrate medical with psychological, nutritional, beauty and wellness and bring all aspects under a single roof," explains Talwar.
Entering the clinic in Delhi's Hauz Khas is anything but a threatening feeling. The atmosphere is easy and relaxed. The décor is lively and colourful. There's an eye-catching Gond art painting on one wall near the reception. There are high ceilings and lots of natural light infiltrates the place. There's a nice cafeteria with good, clean food. The clinic is not swarming with people in face-masks, green overalls or nurse's uniforms. A few of the 30-odd staffers know each patient so that some personalised attention is given. It feels far less intimidating.
Above all, the clinic ensures that patients and their care-givers do not just give up halfway through the process. Anyone who has been to the large modern day hospitals knows what an ordeal it can be. To even find parking at the large hospitals is not easy. Although most multispecialty hospitals have a day care chemotherapy centre, it is not easy to navigate the entire gamut of procedures and paperwork. Getting any tests done is an ordeal as long corridors and queues have to be navigated. Billing and procedures can take ages.
The clinic is fully equipped to handle any emergencies or reactions from the treatment. Patients that need surgery or more advanced treatment are guided to the right places and doctors. Vora uses his own vast network to help patients identify the best course of action.
A psychologist is present on the premises to talk to both patients and their family members. Talwar says at times the care giver is in a worse frame of mind than the patient and needs to be shown the "light at the end of the tunnel" to persevere.
The nutritional aspect is also custom-made to suit the patient's likes and dislikes. "Chemo kills one's taste buds and many patients lose all interest in food," explains Talwar. The team has had a study done on how the taste buds change depending on the drug and type of cancer. Vora recently presented the findings in a published paper at a conference in Munich and uses learning from that to advise own patients.
Yoga sessions are designed for patients, depending on the type of cancer, age and ability. Recognising that looking good is almost as important as feeling good, the clinic has at the entrance itself a host of shelves dedicated to items that cancer patients typically look for once their treatment is underway and the symptoms begin to show - be it breast pads or hair wigs. "We don't want the patient or his family running pillar to post to find the products needed to help them overcome some of the cosmetic challenges the disease poses," explains Vora.
The good news
is that the experiment of Vora and Talwar appears to be working. On an average, the clinic is now getting 60 new patients every month. The regulars make the business brisk. The first clinic has recently broken even and is now earning a small profit. Plans to add a new facility nearby are afoot so resources could be shared. Eventually, they want to expand and add similar clinics all over India but that's still a while away.
For now the biggest joy for Talwar, Vora and the entire team is that they find their patients coming to spend time at the clinic even on days when they don't have a session. They come to find support from them and each other - something that can never happen in any hospital. This is the single biggest validation for what they are attempting. And for the patients, it's a ray of hope in an otherwise dark existence.