Friday, July 9, 2010

Nandamuri Tharakarama Indo-American Cancer Institute

Subsequent to my final morning in the Physiotherapy department, Ammama and Arvind had so graciously coordinated a visit to the Nandamuri Tharakarama Indo-American cancer institute.

The English sign!

And the Telegu sign.

Cancer is something I have always been extremely fascinated with. The fact that it is a disease that can occur in anyone without warning is really scary, especially when the cause and cure are unknown. So when I heard we had the opportunity to visit this institute I was thrilled to learn more about this mysterious illness. This institute was built by NT Ramarao (A famous film actor) who became the chief minister of Andra Pradesh.

The statue of NT Ramarao and his wife outside of the Hospital. They have done such a quintessential thing by building this hosptial. So many people are helped every day and a lot of valuable reserach is conducted in this institute.

Arvind and I standing by the statue. A big thanks to Arvind for organizing this event as well as the Svecha community service visit to the slums. They were both wonderful opportunities that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The first thing we saw when we entered the institute were two buses. Arvind informed us that these buses traveled to the villages and poor areas in order to test people for cancer. Raising awareness of cancer and detecting it early is so essential to the treatment process. Providing these cancer tests to people in villages who are not aware that a disease like cancer even exists is so wonderful. The staff travels on one of the buses and on the other bus, there is a variety of medical instruments to test for cancer. So essentially, all of the testing can be done on the bus!

These are some shots of the high tech buses used by the institute.

We entered the institute and I was immediately overwhelmed by the thousands of people crammed together in the waiting room. Every seat was filled and I was once again shocked by this apparent cultural difference: there are infinitely more patients that require treatment in India than in America. We met with one of staff members of the institute and she offered to give us a tour. The tour she provided for us was extremely extensive and informative. Our first stop was the area where the scans are done. We got to witness a live video of someone undergoing a scan to see if there are any malignant tumors.

Our next stop was the Computer Systems room. This room was so interesting. A series of doctors sit at computers and analyze the photographs taken by the scans. They are able to examine the patients full body and detect which regions are cancerous. And here I learned something new about the treatment process for cancer. There are two types of cancer treatment: Chemotherapy: which is radiation that is sent through your whole body, and IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy) which is radiation that occurs in a localized area where the tumor is located. If doctors detect the cancer early in a patient, and it has not yet spread they can use IMRT. But if the cancer is detected too late, and has spread, then the patient must undergo chemotherapy, which is far more harmful to the body with very severe side affects.

A picture of some of the images the doctors in the Computer Systems room were examining.

After the Computer Systems room, we had the opportunity to actually meet with and interact with some of the Chemotherapy patients. The wards were separated for men and women and children. Each ward is also separated by socioeconomic levels. There was even a ward that provided free treatment for patients. This treatment is paid for by the government. The scans and technology used for cancer is so expensive and with most of the patients lacking health insurance this free treatment is so important to them. It was disheartening to see all these patients had to go through. The doctor who gave us the tour described to us in detail the various side affects of Chemotherapy, and it really is tragic that these patients must deal with such difficulties every day. However, most of them manage to stay optimistic and hopeful. And again, this experience made me appreciate my life more. The fact that I am healthy truly is a blessing, and it put my life and the small things I take for granted in perspective.

After we visited with the patients we got a tour of the lab and I had the opportunity to actually see the tumors. This was so fascinating. The fact that a malignant tumor can cause so much harm and damage to someone is so terrifying.

This visit to the Cancer Institute is something I am so thankful Ammama (my grandmother) and Arvind (a family friend) coordinated. The faces of the patients who underwent chemotherapy will always be with me, and will always be a reminder of how fortunate I really am. This visit made me grateful for all the things I have been blessed with; all the things that seem so simple but that really are everything.I know that the knowledge and information I gained here will make me a better and more well-rounded person. And this institute has inspired me to create something like this some day. It has inspired me to take a stand and help people who are suffering.

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