Cancer-afflicted woman, husband fight disease from a Mumbai footpath

May 30, 2015, 07:30 IST | Sadaguru Pandit

A patient and her husband from Akola have been forced to stay on a street opposite the Tata Memorial Hospital since five months because of their inability to afford lodging expenses

While taking care of their five daughters and a son in a village in Akola, Noor Mohammad Ali Shaikh and Shabanabi dreamt of going to Mumbai for a vacation. Little did they know that they would have to spend five months of their lives on a footpath in the city that they dreamt of. They had to come here to treat Shabanabi, who has cancer.

Noor Mohammed Ali Shaikh, seen with Shabanabi, said he is cheerful in spite of the situation because it’s the only way to remain level headed. Pic/Satyajit Desai
Noor Mohammed Ali Shaikh, seen with Shabanabi, said he is cheerful in spite of the situation because it’s the only way to remain level headed. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The 42-year-old and her 44-year-old husband have been forced to live on a footpath opposite the Tata Memorial Hospital at Parel, due to because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. Noor owns a cycle repair shop and lives with his family of nine, including six children, his wife and father.

It wasn’t until February 2014 that he realised Shabanabi’s health was deteriorating after a wound on her left leg showed no sign of getting better. She had been complaining of joint pain and weakness.

“She was losing weight, used to scream at night in pain, and couldn’t move around. That’s when I took her to a local hospital,” said Noor. The doctor told Noor that Shabanabi was suffering from Osteosarcoma (cancerous tumour in a bone). The couple travelled to Mumbai in the month of August, for the first time in their lives, to seek treatment for her ailment.

Met a good doctor
“First we went to Prince Aly Khan Hospital since it was a trust and we thought we will get a concession on the treatment there. The doctor told us that though there were good chances of Shabanabi getting cured, the expense might cross Rs 10 lakh.

There was no way we could bear the expense. But the doctor was very helpful, he wrote a reference letter for Tata Hospital, and asked me to take her there,” said Noor. He took Shabanabi to Tata Hospital and a doctor immediately admitted her. Within 15 days, the hospital amputated her left leg from the knee to stop the tumour from spreading.

Two months after the operation, the hospital discharged her, but she still had to undergo eight chemotherapy sessions. With each session lasting five days, with a gap of of 21 days between sessions, the couple was given tentative dates for the eight sessions starting from November 8.

No place to stay
“For the first three sessions, we moved in at Gadgebaba Hostel at Parel. We only had to pay Rs 10 a day and it was affordable. Since the treatment cost was covered under Rajiv Gandhi Aarogya Yojna, we were paying only for medication, which was still a burden,” said Shabanabi.

However as the hostel only allows stay for three months, they were asked to take another appointment, which was scheduled after several months. Another trust-run housing facility said they don’t allow cancer patients to stay on their premises. The couple then had no choice but to move to a footpath in January.

They go to a temple for lunch and depend on charity for other meals. “There is heat, continuous noise and dust. People walk by carelessly, sometimes kicking away our stuff, but we can’t complain. There is no other way. I never thought that our first trip to Mumbai will be spent on the streets,” said Noor, smiling.

‘I cheer her up’
Asked how he stayed cheerful in the situation, Noor said that was the only way to remain level headed. “If I break down, what will she do? I talk to her, cheer her up by telling her that only a few days are left and we will be home soon. I just hope the rains don’t start anytime soon. We have two more months to spend here and it will be really difficult to manage in the rains,” said Noor.

Hospital speak
“We don't admit patients during chemotherapy sessions but in such cases we can help them with accommodation available with the hospital. Had the couple contacted us, we would have helped them with lodging and other facilities,” the Tata Memorial hospital spokesperson said.

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