Pioneering palliative care for cancer patients in India

Transparent. Ethical. Fair. Committed.

CanSupport has pioneered palliative care at home for people with advanced and terminal cancer in North India for over 15 years.

At its inception in 1997, CanSupport was treating 6 patients. Today, more than 1,000 patients and their families are receiving high quality medical, nursing, and psycho-social care free of charge. Furthermore, over 50,000 people have benefitted from a 24/7 telephone service established to provide additional support to patients and family members.

CanSupport Offerings (all are provided free of charge):
– In home palliative care (including pain relief, nursing support, and counseling); 24/7 telephone connection to care team available outside of visiting hours
– Rehabilitation program for patients & family members
– Out-patient clinic
– Daycare program
– Peer support group meetings
– Confidential telephone helpline (offers emotional support and referrals to CanSupport services)
– Training workshops

Harmala Gupta, the founder was diagnosed and treated for Hodgkin’s disease (a cancer of the lymphatic system) in Toronto, Canada, while studying for her Ph.D. in 1986-87. She was at that time unable to submit her thesis due to her illness. When Harmala returned to India, she was surprised by the underdeveloped state of palliative care in the country. Hundreds of Indians are diagnosed with cancer every day, and almost 80% are terminal with no where to go once their cancer treatments fail. In response, Harmala started CanSupport in 1996 to provide home-based palliative care to people with advanced and terminal cancer. The focus was on the poor and indigent which is why the service is free of charge. When the home care service began, palliative care was hardly known in India, even within the medical community. There were no doctors, nurses or counsellors trained in palliative care. Obtaining a license for oral morphine, a drug of choice for unremitting cancer pain, took nearly 5 years to get. It was a hard struggle but ultimately worth it.

Recent Accomplishment: The Out-Patient Clinic in East Delhi, June 2013
Located outside the major cancer hospital in Delhi, the intention is to help patients with pain and symptom management and with the dressing of fungating tumours.  It is also a place where patients and their families can just stop by for a chat and information.

Looking Forward
A statement from CanSupport:

“With people living longer and with changes in lifestyle we are witnessing a rise in non-communicable diseases, with cancer at the top of the list. Presently, in India, people with life limiting and debilitating illnesses have very limited access to palliative care as it is yet to become part of the medical and nursing curricula as well as part of general health care delivery.  We have to make the switch and realize that it is no longer a question of just extending lives but making sure that these lives are lived with quality and dignity.

We are proud to be pioneering this care in India and are grateful for the support we receive in terms of donations and encouragement from both home and abroad. It is our dream at CanSupport to have a place where we can bring in our patients for respite care and give their families a well deserved break. We shall be grateful to anyone who would like to contribute to this project which is part of our Five Year Plan looking forward.”

Case Study

Lakshman (name changed), 38, had four children and a loving wife. He was content and grateful for the life he had. However, the family was to face their severest test when Lakshman was diagnosed with a cancer of the head and neck.

When the CanSupport home care team visited Lakshman a few weeks after his diagnosis, he was lying on a bed with his gaze steadily fixed on the wall in front of him. He looked defeated and dejected.
The nurse on the team observed the tracheostomy tube placed in his neck to help him breathe and the open wound on his face. The first task therefore was to show the wife how to dress his wound and take better care of his oral hygiene. The children had been pulled out of school as Lakshman had lost his job and could not afford to pay their fees, His wife admitted that she felt overwhelmed: “As he is unable to speak, communicating with him has become difficult.” The children too stayed away.

The counselor on the team invested the next few visits in coaxing Lakshman to open up and talk or write down his feelings. She also instructed the family to read his expressions, to respond to his hand and finger movements and to help him communicate with them by writing down messages. What gave them the greatest relief however was realising that the disease was not contagious. They no longer feared touching and hugging him to show they cared. His friends too resumed their visits.

The family were also starving. The social worker on the CanSupport team arranged for food rations for at least six months to tide them over. She also simultaneously arranged for a donation of a wooden cart so that Radha, Lakshman’s wife, could start selling vegetables to earn an income for the family. The older children were recruited to take care of Lakshman’s needs and dressed his wound meticulously. Earlier, Lakshman had had to visit the hospital every week to get his medicines which was a nuisance and expensive. Now the medicines he needed for his pain and other symptoms were provided to him at home.

To help him speak again so that he could resume a normal life, Lakshman needed an artificial larynx. He could not afford to buy one. The CanSupport social worker was able to find a company that was ready to provide Lakshman with a good quality artificial larynx at a cheaper rate. A donor too was found who was ready to bear the cost.

Lakshman now speaks with an artificial larynx and all his trials and tribulations seem to be behind him. He has got his old job back and his children are back at school. He is also a changed man: ‘I never complain about anything anymore and have taught my children to respect life,’ is what he wrote on a piece of paper when the CanSupport team made one of their weekly visits to his home. Sitting next to him was his wife, gently massaging his feet. They no longer needed words to communicate and were ready to face what lay ahead.


(Min. Donation Amount: $500)

Photo provided by CanSupport

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