Palliative Care: Meet Panna Bharali, A Cancer Survivor, Helping Others Like Herself

Posted: April 26, 2018

Panna Bharali, whom the author calls Pappu Baa, is a breast cancer survivor, working with a palliative care initiative to help others like herself.

A survivor

“Talk about your problem to resourceful people and get them solved,” were her words when she started talking about her initiative towards palliative care, and the reason behind resigning from her job. I had known her since my graduation days, but nowadays, she is well-known as the ‘Angelina Jolie of Assam’ who had fought back cancer with all positivity and paved the way for many, saying,”if we fight back, everything is possible”.

She has been a tenacious lady full of positivity since the first day I have known her. For everyone else, she is Panna Bharali. But for me, she is ‘Pappu Baa’. She was the reason behind my being on time to college every day. Not even a single day did she regret that life was being so harsh on her, when both, her elder sister and mother, passed away due to ovarian cancer. Instead, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and I called her she said, “If I sit thinking and cry about the problem, it won’t get solved. Instead I need to find a solution to resolve it!” And thus she fought it back with liveliness.

Palliative care

Today she is completely disease free and is part of a palliative care initiative named, ‘Pratishruti Cancer Palliative Care Society’ in Dibrugarh, Assam.

When asked why she chose to be a part of this palliative care programme, giving up her well-paying job, she replied that after the treatment of patients, their survival is tedious. They have to go through both physical and psychological trauma. The physical deformations are accompanied by depressions and anxiety attacks. So during this period the patient should be given positive vibes to lead a healthy and stress free life after treatment.

She chose to be a part of this society because of Dr Gayatri Gogoi (pathologist from Assam Medical College and a pioneer in cancer Biology, Dibrugarh, Assam) who had given her a lot of support to fight through the difficult stages during treatment. Even, her father Dr. Heramba Kumar Bharali, a well known pathologist and social worker was always there with her during her most difficult time, but unfortunately he passed away due to a massive heart attack back in 2016 when she was recuperating.

Paying it forward

This incident left her shattered, but during this period Dr Gayatri gave Pappu Baa all the mental support she needed. Like her, Panna Bharali wanted to be of some help to the people passing through the pain and trauma of leading a normal life after the medical and surgical treatment is done.

Panna Bharali says, “I want to be a pratishruti (promise) to the people suffering with after treatment trauma. Life can be well spent in a normal way even after all the pain one has gone through, and this was one of the reasons of me joining Pratishruti. Since I have been through the same mental and physical trauma, I know how much they are broken from inside, and only positive moral support and constant encouragement can help them re-moralize.”

“In India, although palliative care exists, little importance is given to it. The number of patients in India is so huge that it is all the medical establishment can do to treat them physically. It is not always within the ambit of their work for the physicians or the medical personnel to take care and even follow up with the patients, but it should be within the routine of the people/relatives or near and dear ones taking care of the patients, to keep track of their timely follow-ups and even deal with their psychological mood shifts with positivity.”

“This is lacking in our society. The survivor and their family members are in so much a panic that the treatment takes away a big chunk of their savings. But, in reality it is not so. There are many schemes of the government, under which treatment can be done at minimal cost. Since in my previous job I needed to deal a lot with government bodies, I am quite familiar with those schemes, and joining Pratishruti has helped me to reach out to the patients and educate them about the schemes instead of panicking about the cost. This organization has become the main priority in my life today, so that I can fill positivity in the lives of these cancer survivors, and let them know that this is not the end of their life. They are traumatized by the anxiety that the cancer will come back. Thus, in the fear of future, they forget to live in the present. It’s a difficult thing to do for me alone, and I am blessed to have people around me who volunteer readily for this initiative. I know that we can’t help everyone, but at least a few handful can be aided, which will bring a new gleam of light in their lives”.

Panna Bharali, the fighter

Panna Bharali is a true fighter who is even efficiently handling the NGO of her deceased elder sister named ‘Irab-Kirab’, which works on environmental conservation. She has kept her elder sister’s dream alive — she was doing a doctorate on the endangered orchids of the NE by preparing a kitchen garden in her home, where she grew different types of orchids available in NE.

In short, Panna Bharali has dedicated her life to the welfare of society in all aspects. She doesn’t ask for any recognition for her work, and is one of the many unsung heroes of our society as she believes in: “an action speaks louder than words”.

A conversation with Pappu Baa always inspires me a lot, and reminds me of a couple of lines from the song of Def Leppard, “I gotta long long way to go before I say goodbye to you”.

Published here earlier.

All images credit Panna Bharali and Joyeeta Talukdar

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Cancer Stem Cell Researcher , loves to write about various experiences experienced in life.

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1 Comment


  1. Baalaa subramanian -

    She made her life a mission

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