By Shweta Bhandral
Everything had been going well for Ruby Ahluwalia. The daughter of a police officer brought up in the hills of Uttarakhand, she had joined the civil services in 1986, travelled extensively, and raised a family.
Then, in 2009, Ruby was diagnosed with stage-three cancer.
While undergoing treatment at Tata Cancer Hospital, Mumbai, what struck Ruby, who is the Principal Financial Advisor and Chief Accounts Officer, Central Railways, was the plight of fellow cancer patients who did not have the resources she did. “I saw people sitting on the floor of the hospital with no hope in their eyes… Those eyes would haunt me.”
It took Ruby three years to beat cancer. As soon as she was on her feet, she launched her NGO, Sanjeevani Life Beyond Cancer, in collaboration with Tata Cancer Hospital, to work with underprivileged cancer patients.
“The first project we launched was ‘Can Sahayogi’. Doctors spend just a few minutes with patients, so I decided that I would be there for patients as soon as they came out of the OPD,” the 57-year-old narrates.
Sanjeevani navigates patients through the hospital process, emotionally supports them and helps them with their stay in the city. “If there is a shortage of funds, which is normally the case, Sanjeevani assists them in the paperwork to avail the funds made available by the government or various trusts for cancer patients,” says Ruby.
The Can Sahayogi project now runs in 14 cities of 10 states, hand-holding 2.2 lakh cancer patients.
Soon, Ruby realised that with her job responsibilities at the Central Railways, she could not be available all the time for Sanjeevani. There was a need to hire trained cancer caregivers, but there was no programme to prepare people for a niche role such as this. Hence, she wrote her own curriculum for a four-month course called ‘Can Saarthi’. Sanjeevani has trained six batches so far.
Next, she launched the ‘Satori’ awareness programme to educate cancer patients on how to raise their immunity levels. Then came ‘Can Chetna’ and ‘Can Varta’ to inspire patients to build their lives and health once again.
With COVID spreading like wildfire in Mumbai, things have become worse for cancer patients. Treatment plans have altered or come to a halt; many are not able to reach their hospitals for check-ups. To address their anxiety, Sanjeevani handles over 700 calls a day, besides daily online sessions for over 200 persons at a time.
“We compromise our immunity by suppressing emotions, desires, anger and anxiety. This builds toxicity and is a conducive environment for lifestyle diseases from hypertension to cancer,” says Ruby, whose book on the subject, Fragrance of a Wild Soul, launched in March.
First published as part of a three-part series ‘Power and Passion’ on women bureaucrats in eShe’s June 2020 issue
Syndicated to Money Control