A Mother walked alongside her daughter through the Impossible. The daughter walked her right back through the impossible by ARCHANA JYOTI
Meenakshi Dhingra's journey, spanning from the compassionate care she provided for her daughter Tanisa, diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, to the establishment of the foundation in her memory, unfolds as a poignant saga embodying resilience, compassion, and the profound transformative impact of personal adversity.
As the founder of Tanisa Foundation, Meenakshi has now created a dynamic platform dedicated to not only extending the lives of cancer patients but also enhancing their overall quality of life.
Simultaneously, the foundation offers invaluable support to caregivers, acknowledging the integral role they play in the journey of those affected by the life-threatening but preventable disease.
This initiative has successfully provided a new lease of life for more than 10,000 individuals contending with cancer and their dedicated caregivers, said Meenakshi as she shared that Tanisa was only 23 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The initial shock and the ensuing challenging phase were obviously overwhelming for the family.
However, adding to the agony of the Dhingra’s were emotional and logistical challenges, including the difficulty of navigating the complex landscape of cancer treatment in India, after they came to know that Tansia got Ovarian cancer.
"When we received the news (about Tanisa’s medical condition), we held onto the hope that she would recover with the best treatment. However, we were clueless about where to go and whom to contact for the right treatment.
“I found that even most of the doctors were unable to address all our queries due to time constraints. Some so-called friends also began distancing themselves, fearing that we might seek help from them. Those were tough days. But we decided to fight together. I took a sabbatical from my company and conducted extensive research on the possibilities of restoring her health. We clung to the belief that we could achieve it,” reminisced Meenakshi.
It may be mentioned here that Ovarian cancer is a condition characterised by the growth of cells in the ovaries. Often referred as the silent killer, it poses a life-threatening risk for women. Detecting early symptoms of ovarian cancer proves challenging, often leading to delayed diagnoses.
Throughout the course of Tanisa's treatment, Meenakshi remarked, "I discovered, through personal experience, that contrary to the common belief associating ovarian cancer with women in old age, approximately 15 per cent of women grappling with this deadly disease fall within the age group of 15-30 years. I also realised the difficulty in seeking support when facing challenges that are too emotionally taxing to discuss."
Meenakshi endeavoured to emphasise this point, underscoring that “despite living in an era marked by remarkable advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, the disease persists entangled with societal stigma and taboos. Many individuals still encounter denial of fundamental cancer care.” This revelation held particular poignancy for Meenakshi, a known face in the furniture export sector.
While they gained access to top-notch medical care, the mother of the cancer patient realised that not all doctors have the capacity to provide the kind of support patients require, and perhaps it is unreasonable to expect them to do so. India has over two million cancer patients and less than 350 oncologists, which results in most doctors spending only a few minutes with each of their patients, leaving many of the holistic needs of the patient and caregiver unaddressed.
“What was particularly heart wrenching for us to witness our 23-year-old darling facing health challenges at such a tender age. She had to take sabbatical at the world’s largest technology company, Google, and relocate to the US for treatment. Though she refused to give up on life and kept fighting the deadly disease till the end,” Meenakshi continued as she shared how four years proved a turning point in mother-daughter duo’s lives.
“Transitioning from a vibrant Google employee to a cancer survivor, Tanisa's personal journey was entirely devoted to assisting others. She became a symbol of inspiration, noticing significant disparities in treatment approaches between the USA and India. This observation motivated her to bridge the gap and raise awareness about the critical importance of prevention.”
Tanisa returned to India in later 2016, having overcome the challenges posed by cancer. But she refused to take rest. Tanisa redirected her energy toward raising awareness and providing support. They became volunteers with the Indian Cancer Society, visiting hospitals and clinics to offer emotional support to cancer patients and their caregivers.
“People always consider the cancer patient, but often forget the carer. I feel if we connect with caregivers and tell them we are there to help them, it would help relieve some of their stress and give a sense of direction.” Tanisa's passion for making a meaningful impact led her to organise various events across Delhi/NCR.
Her initiatives, including events like "Breakfree From Cancer," laughter clubs, makeup collaborations, photoshoots, and hair donation drives, reflect a holistic approach to cancer support. The foundation's comprehensive vision encompasses educational, psychological, and nutritional assistance, particularly for children. These activities, focused on alleviating trauma and instilling positivity, are now regular features.
For instance, ‘Breakfree From Cancer’ serves as a crucial gathering for patients and families to disconnect from the challenges of the disease, ensuring a supportive community within the foundation.
“This movement gradually expanded. Tanisa understood the importance of embracing life, regardless of circumstances, choosing to confront the disease by dressing well and cultivating a positive self-image,” fondly recalled Meenakshi.
From 2017 to 2019, Tanisa positively impacted several patients and their families. In addition to her work in India, Tanisa delivered motivational talks globally in locations such as Singapore, Malaysia, the USA, Hong Kong, etc. “As a Google employee, she even had the opportunity to present her talk before Sundar Pichai in one of their conferences,” Meenakshi warmly reminisces about Tanisa’s innovative initiatives. But tragically, in mid-2020, complications arose during Tanisa's treatment and she succumbed to the cancer in December 2021.
with an aim of carrying forward Tanisa's legacy by supporting dreams and offering hope to the community, Tanisa Foundation was officially born in April 2022.
While it was "hard to watch" her only daughter go through the painful journey, Meenakshi gives credit to her son Tejas and a few friends of Tanisa, such as Pragya, for the way they stepped up.
Following in his sister Tanisa’s footsteps, Tejas (28), who also joined Google in 2020 immediately after graduating from Delhi University, said, “I am now fully dedicated to helping the entire cancer community and spreading the happiness that Tanisa used to bring to him and everyone around her.”
Pragya Bhargava, Tanisa’s childhood friend echoed similar sentiments. “I knew her since childhood. As a way of remembering and celebrating her, I try to volunteer my time and skills to continue the work she started. She was a gem of person.”
Her husband, Neeraj Dhingra, too is also fully committed to honouring Tanisa’s life through the foundation and volunteering to assist cancer patients.
On Tanisa's part, who has left an irreplaceable void in the lives of all those who had met her in the four years following her ovarian cancer diagnosis, she showcased her resilience and compassion. Despite facing the harsh realities of cancer treatment, Tanisa worked tirelessly to support others, offering financial assistance and advocating for improved access to quality care.
Recognising the financial strain on low-income households, the foundation is playing a crucial role in providing assistance and raising awareness about cancer. It is estimated that 70 per cent of cancer patients in India are detected in advanced stages of the disease, leading to a high mortality rate. Many cancers are treatable if they are detected early, noted Meenakshi asserting that she now envisions expanding the foundation's reach by collaborating with like-minded individuals, doctors, and NGOs to create a robust network of support systems across India. The goal is to foster a community passionate about fighting cancer and to share knowledge for the greater good.
“In these initiatives, I am simply living my daughter’s dream, as this is what she always wanted to do,” said Meenakshi, poignantly recalling Tanisa’s enthusiasm to work compassionately in every field she chose.
In addition to being a self-made businesswoman, Meenakshi has been active in numerous cancer events and regularly counseling cancer patients across the country with a heart that understands their pain and journey. She is also an active and integral member of the Indian Cancer Society.
Given that cancer treatment necessitates a more humane approach, she emphasises the importance of a holistic attempt to address patients' mental concerns, empower them to reintegrate into the mainstream, and assist them in rebuilding their lives.
“Our cancer screening drives cater to people who cannot otherwise afford regular health check-ups. We organize screening camps around Delhi and NCR in collaboration with hospitals to provide health check-ups that identify early signs of cancerous or precancerous conditions before any symptoms appear,” she explained.
Meenakshi sums it up, “Cancer doesn’t care, but we do. I miss Tanisa terribly, and no one else should suffer from this terrible disease.”
(The writer is an Associate Editor, The Pioneer)