Every few days, we hear of people being diagnosed with cancer. The most dreaded disease in the world, the Big C’s impact in our lives is all-pervasive. While the patient battles incredible physical and mental trauma, the ordeal is no less for his/her family and friends. What can make a big difference, though, is the support system. NGO OncoHappy is therefore organising a sundowner next month in honour of cancer, as February 4 is World Cancer Day.

The open-air event, #baldishappy, will be held on February 10 at Bandra Fort, Mumbai. The aim is to change the narrative and bring the community together in the fight against cancer. The first of its kind, a hair donation drive will be held on the occasion for making wigs for cancer patients. “This is not a fundraiser. It is open to the public to raise the awareness that mental health of cancer patients is equally important as medical treatment,” says Shanaya Tata, lead project initiative at OncoHappy.

The motivation behind the hair donation drive is the fact that loss of hair is the primary side-effect of the chemotherapy that cancer patients undergo. “Often, people — especially women — refuse chemo as they fear hair loss,” explains Shanaya. The idea is to make it an ongoing campaign

Explaining the fear cancer patients face, Delhi-based Trideepa Kar Sharma, who was diagnosed with cancer in August 2014, says: “Well, I was devastated at the thought of losing my hair… and all of it… it was like I was going to lose a very important part of my identity… and I tried pushing it for as far as I could… and after my second chemo, my hair started to fall… clumps of it… everywhere… it was heartbreaking.”

“But I had to tell myself that it was a part of the deal. You have to increase your survival chances. You have to undergo chemos… and that means losing my hair. So I went to my hairstylist, the same guy who had been styling my long wavy hair for nearly 15 years and asked him to shave my head.”

Trideepa adds, “To my surprise, I did not find it as traumatic. I felt more ready for the battle ahead. And it became fun sporting different looks — the bald, the short crop and now the medium length. Honestly, my hair journey made me feel younger, empowered and liberated.”

#baldishappy

At #baldishappy, 26-year-old Roshini Kumar, who survived stage 4 cancer when she was in her teens, will be shaving her hair off live at the venue. Those wishing to donate hair can pre-register for it. The minimum requirement for hair donation is 10 to 12 inches of clean hair. Even colour-treated hair will be accepted. Those present at the venue can also choose to donate on the spur of the moment.

The event will feature body positivity through art and live music.

How OncoHappy spreads cheer

The Mumbai-based OncoHappy was set up by Mansi Mehta in 2017 to bridge the gap in cancer care. Mehta took the initiative after losing her mother to cancer. The NGO, which also conducts programmes in Delhi and Bangalore, focuses on holistic care for cancer patients.

“Little things like just being there and giving them your time, having a conversation, a smile, make a big difference in the lives of cancer patients. Positivity is key,” asserts Shanaya.

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Drawing colourful murals on hospital walls is one of OncoHappy’s earlier initiatives #colourishappy.

The NGO’s small core team — consisting of five members — have all lost a loved one to cancer and therefore hold the cause dear. Volunteers form a big part of the NGO.

Currently, cancer treatment focuses more on the body, not mind. “This, along with the stigma associated with the way we look, takes a toll on the patients mentally. This is the outlook we want to change.” – Shanaya

While people are generally hesitant to talk about things like cancer, of late, conversations around mental health have started. Mental health has a lot to do with recovery, says Shanaya. “People detected with early stage cancer can usually be cured, but sometimes they do not recover due to lack of positivity. On the other hand, people with stage 4 cancer like Roshini can also beat the disease with positivity.”

“Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. That’s why #baldishappy is a celebration of strength and positivity,” says Shanaya, signing off.

To pre-register for hair donation, click here

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