Food donors come as a blessing for underprivileged cancer patients living on footpaths outside Tata Memorial Centre

Underprivileged cancer patients who come to Tata Memorial Centre for treatment and are forced to stay in temporary shelters on footpaths are now getting two meals a day for themselves and their accompanying family thanks to the generosity of donors.

A couple of NGOs were already donating food to them in the morning. However, last week they started getting evening meals as well. That is thanks to Dr. Prince Surana, CEO of the Surana Group of Hospital, and his friends, including music composers Wajid Khan and Sajid Khan. Nearly 500 patients and their family members benefit from the initiative.

“During a visit to Tata me and my father, who is also chairman of, came across a few patients. These patients deal with a dreaded disease. On top of that they have to worry about food and stay too,” Dr. Surana said. “Hence this programme.

“The vision was to give quality food to 500 people every day. When I circulated this message among the doctors’ community, family and friends, many came forward and supported the cause.”

“We don’t encourage patients to stay on footpath,” says SH Jafri, spokesperson, Tata Memorial. “Yes, it is true that the affordable staying facilities here are always full. We have nearly 150 facilities where patients can stay. We put them on a waitlist, but some patients, when their number comes up, don’t want to leave, because they get food here.”

Around 65,000 cancer patients from across the country visit Tata Memorial each year. As the hospital cannot provide accommodation to all of them, many are forced to stay in temporary shelters. Families say accommodation in Mumbai costs more than treatment at the hospital. This forces them to live in shacks, which they themselves build.

Recently, to reduce the load on Tata Memorial, the 352-bed Mahamana Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Cancer Centre was inaugurated in Varanasi. Doctors from Tata Memorial, who played a crucial role in setting it up, will run the facility.

Bone cancer patient Parasnath Dey (35) has been living in his little shack for the past six months. With him are his wife and their four-year-old daughter. They have come all the way from West Bengal for treatment. “My husband is undergoing chemotherapy,” says Kumpa Dey. “We have been told the treatment will cost around Rs 12 lakh. I have already sold my jewellery. Although the treatment is subsidised, there are many other expenses that we need to meet on a day-to-day basis. We have to visit the doctor twice a month. It is not possible for us to make regular trips to the city. We are helpless. We have no option but to live on the street,” she says. “The food is a big help to us. We sometimes went to bed hungry. Now my child does not have to do that.”

Nandkumar Singh has head and neck cancer. The 46-six-year-old, who is from Bihar, has had a relapse. “My surgery has been scheduled for May,” he says. “I can’t go back and return again.”

Anita Bhagwan, 39, who has head and neck cancer, is from Nanded in Maharashtra. She has been on the footpath since March 27. “I am from a small village called Khandar,” she says. “My husband is an alcoholic. I work as a labourer to feed our two children. I can’t die. If I do who will take care of my children.”

Bhagwan Shah, 43, from Bihar, has stomach cancer. He and his wife came to Mumbai on January 4, and since then they have been living on the footpath. “My chemo is on. The hospital is giving us big support in terms of free medicines and treatment. Now with the generous food donations, we can survive in this city. To us these people are god,” he says.

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