Cancer is certainly one of the greatest diseases in the world, which annihilates hundreds of thousands of lives each year. It takes the lives of people who once were someone’s children, parents, brothers or sisters – people whose loss has destroyed more families than we can imagine, and at best their loss has changed their family’s lives forever. Why does this disease take such a deadly toll? It’s very often related to our own negligence and the fact that we are more focused on our own work and everyday duties rather than on planning our own check-ups, in order to detect cancer at its early stage, stage which can be successfully cured. There are also people who live in developing countries or in underprivileged sectors located in well-developed countries, but still stricken by severe poverty. The thickness of our wallets often changes our priorities, and this is the case when it comes to people coming from so called lower strata of society, whose main goal is to survive and to feed the whole family.
Cancer is a very malicious disease and can affect everyone, even our closest ones – which, unfortunately, I’ve had a chance to realize recently. Luckily, in the case of my family everything goes well, despite the fact that the waiting time for the operation was pretty long, if we talked about advanced cancer, I’d say that the waiting time was outrageous. However, there are some places in the world where there is no emphasis put on prophylaxis and effective treatment, just on the contrary, all kinds of cancer are stigmatized, and especially the ones which are culturally and socially conditioned as the reason of embarrassment. Is it really worth following the patterns, which can deprive us or our close ones of lives? Fortunately, there are still some wonderful people in the world, with big hearts and willingness to help people in the places where the aid wouldn’t reach them in time. The number of health advocates, who support the patients struggling with cancer, is constantly increasing and it’s worth believing that one day this particular disease won’t be more dangerous than common appendicitis. Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to Dr Lopamundra Das Roy – a happy mom, wife and a very well educated woman, who despite great career prospects decided to give up her past activities to become a volunteer working pro bono for all those who need her help. In this interview you’ll get familiar with her non-profit organization, you’ll get to know more about her vision and mission, as well as her plans for the future.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Lopamudra: I was born in a family of Doctors and Healthcare providers relentlessly and tirelessly working towards the community. My Grandfather (Late Dr K.N Das) and Father (Late Dr Chandra Sekhar Das) served 3-4 generation of patients in Assam, North-East Part of India. I was motivated and followed the same path with a passion in the field of Cancer Research to find a cure and treatment modalities. I completed my Ph.D. in Genetics from India and Postdoctoral Fellowship in Cancer Immunology & Metastasis focusing on Breast & Pancreatic Cancer from Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and worked as a Cancer Scientist and Research Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I received my MBA from Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management. In 2017, I decided to give up my professional career to take on a fully voluntary philanthropic mission by forming a non-profit organization to take on fundamental challenges related to healthcare, sustainability goals and save more lives on a widespread basis across developed and developing countries by working at the grassroot level.
My personal and professional life revolves around my work – my passion with a mission to execute simple, innovative, and affordable ways to deal with the current scenario of Cancer.
Passion Piece: You are a truly outstanding woman, who wants to save other people’s lives. That’s why you founded a nonprofit organization. Why did you decide to set up Breast Cancer Hub?
Lopamudra: My dream of building Breast Cancer Hub stems from my discussions with Breast Cancer patients/advocates sharing their stories of pain and agony when mammograms failed their diagnosis due to dense breast issues even in the most developed countries in the world such as the USA. My heart sank when I saw young moms dying of Breast Cancer due to late detection.
During my travel to the developing countries and interaction with women, I observed the level of ignorance about taking care of their breast health. Despite women doing so well in every sphere of their lives, regardless of their level of education and socioeconomic status, breast cancer mortality is high in the developing world. The situation in the rural sector is grimmer and very critical. It’s the stigma of using the word “Breast”. Besides “SHYNESS”, the other major player for late detection is “IGNORANCE” – No one discusses issues with Breast since uttering the word Breast is Taboo & Awkwardness. Breast cancer screening is a low priority and the knowledge of Breast Self-Examination, Clinical Breast Examination & other screening methods (Mammogram and Ultrasound) is very limited. Women would go to the oncologists usually late when tumors are huge and metastasized which becomes an incurable situation leading to a very high death rate.
Also, Breast Cancer in men worldwide is increasing and most men with Breast Cancer seem to have experiences of shock and subsequent embarrassment, battling the “stigma” of having a predominately woman’s disease.
I commenced this new chapter of my life to bridge the gap between the developed & developing countries, to penetrate the untapped sectors, conduct early detection screening, cancer care-treatment & management. I believe We Save a Life, We Save a Family.
Passion Piece: Cancer is one of the most common plagues in the modern world. What inspired you to choose such a particular field?
Lopamudra: An incident that left a mark & drove me towards Cancer.
I was 12-year-old, one of my friends’ mom passed away. At the funeral, when I asked someone the cause of death, to my surprise, people were hesitant to mention the word cancer & hushed me up when I repeated “Breast Cancer”? I was shocked & felt – “Is this the respect we give to a mother who lost her life that we can’t discuss the disease that cost her life?”.
The pain stayed within me & over the years I realized how Cancer became a household name & death sentence because of late detection. I wanted to go deeper & understand the etiology of cancer, discover the pathways to find a cure & treatment therapy & always urged to educate the society about the concept of early detection & preventable measures so that we can significantly reduce the death rate worldwide.
Passion Piece: You resigned from your well-established career. How did your family and friends react when they got to know that you were going to work pro bono and you were just about to do a voluntary service?
Lopamudra: My family was in shock & many of my friends still can’t come to the terms that I gave up everything to work pro bono & voluntary. It was not easy for me either – I have always been financially independent & suddenly to become dependent on my husband monetarily, but for me, my vision was more important & I knew I could never take a salary from the donations that came for Breast Cancer Hub & wanted to drive it all towards the cause with no overhead.
On another note, I have also received criticisms from acquaintances that I need to think of my family rather than community, questioning my responsibilities as a mother & wife because to conduct outreach awareness sessions during the full summer, I go to the rural villages and travel all across India all on my own in public commutes risking my safety with the rise of rape.
But, I was very transparent with my sons (Agastya & Agneya, now 10 & 9 years old) & explained what I was trying to do… their response was “Mamma…please go and save other moms, we are proud of you”.
I am also truly blessed to be surrounded by many wonderful friends and supporters of the mission and vision of BCH who believe in me & encourage me wholeheartedly.
Passion Piece: How does Breast Cancer Hub operate? What do you mainly focus on?
Lopamudra: The key principle of BCH is dedication, passion, relentless effort, commitment, hard-work & most importantly – ethics & integrity to drive the mission of saving lives worldwide. There is no financial goal or P&L involved. Everyone involved has to come with an open mind to serve the community as a volunteer and pro bono service to expand the outreach.
My passion is my work, my strength is my family & friends. I knew if we #BreakTheBreastTaboo, generate awareness, educate about the signs & symptoms of Breast and other Cancer, we can help detect cancer early!
BCH relies on public donation and every penny goes towards the mission stated. We have no overhead expenses such as building, salary or other high maintenance costs other than Project outlays related to logistics, local field worker wages in adopted villages and administrative fees related to digital, print, software and compliance related expenditures.
We have a strong selfless board of directors, & different other boards helping us with their advice on subject matter expertise from their respective fields.
Vision: Save lives by Awareness, Volunteering, Education and Research – SAVER
We fight against BREAST CANCER in WOMEN & MEN. We come together to support ALL CANCER via our Breast Cancer Hub Wings-CANCER HUBS.
All our Services are Free of Cost
1. Early Detection Cancer Screening Camps/Outreaches/Seminar.
3. “Adopting Villages” for Early Detection Screening of Breast, Oral & Cervical Cancer; All Cancer Care – Treatment – Management & Epidemiological Research Study.
4. “Patient Treatment Bucket” for All Cancer, towards underprivileged populace in poverty.
5. BCH WINGS – Colon Cancer Hub, Oral Cancer Hub, Cervical Cancer Hub, Childhood Cancer Hub, Other Cancer Hubs coming up.
6. “Patient Counselling” by providing scientific analysis of the treatment for All type of Cancer.
7. “Patient Advocacy” – we publish interviews in local languages & stories of our advocates who inspire others fighting Cancer.
8. BCH Cancer Support Group.
9. We capture real-time interviews to depict the true scenario with Breast Cancer Taboo & Ignorance.
10. BCH Ambassadors – our community leaders creating awareness.
11. On Humanitarian ground, we are also diligently working on Covid-19 Food Relief, Mask Donation, Sanitization & Awareness Sessions.
My emphasis is also to inculcate the Art of Scientific thinking & thought leadership in the YOUTH. Each student becomes an ambassador & leader to spread the knowledge about cancer awareness, early detection, preventative measures & most importantly serving the community & providing better quality of life to the mankind!
Passion Piece: Your organization prides itself in standing against discrimination of color, religion, language and culture. You serve everyone with equality. Which areas need your help most?
Lopamudra: Culture and society-imposed embarrassment & taboo associated with the word “BREAST”, “CANCER”, “Breast Cancer in Men”, income inequality, myths, and other socio-economic factors leading to lack of awareness & late detection requires our utmost attention that is reflected & expressed with all color, culture, language & religion. Therefore, our focus is education, counseling, and teaching basic science so that everyone can come out from the myriad of confusion, unknowns, etc. with a clear understanding and positive outlook to persevere, and thrive in the journey. We are also determinedly penetrating in the under-privileged sectors as situation is very crucial.
Passion Piece: What kind of difficulties have you faced in the places where the access to health care is almost impossible?
Lopamudra: Extremely challenging… in the Developing countries, huge population is stricken by poverty & villages have no provision of cancer diagnosis or treatment, & if I request them to take one day off from their daily wage work & go to the nearest hospital in town to do either free screening mammogram or spend money from their pocket to do the same, this will never work since food is their priority & not health screening.
Solution: Detect early via simple steps, simple language – We developed Breast Self-Exam (BSE) cards with our wonderful collaborators in local languages for both Women & Men that work wonders especially in the Developing Countries & underprivileged sectors in the USA with the majority of population stricken by poverty who cannot afford other screening processes. We teach the correct protocol & distribute the BSE Cards in the respective local language.
We navigate suspected cases towards healthcare facilities and affordable options for the underprivileged & uninsured populace. We are constantly in touch and make sure that no one goes untreated.
Passion Piece: You’re supported by many advocates who promote your vision and mission in various corners of the world. How are they connected with Breast Cancer Hub? Where do they come from?
Lopamudra: Our Cancer Advocates are our Stars! We share & publish stories of our advocates to inspire & provide strength to others fighting cancer! The heartfelt interviews with a strong positive message in local languages help women & men to be inspired who do not understand any other language but only their native language.
We also have BCH Cancer Support Group formed with advocates with all types of Cancer from ACROSS THE WORLD, sharing each other’s experiences, serving as immense moral support! We are a very private WhatsApp group discussing the scientific perspective of the challenges faced during the treatment. We are one family & we stand for each other, though we are globally at different extremes of the world, we are all emotionally connected.
The Cancer advocates got connected to BCH through our in-person outreach awareness sessions; our global network; social media; friends; our YouTube channel, or they reach out for patient counseling as we provide scientific analysis of the diagnosis & treatment.
Passion Piece: What do you find to be your greatest success? How would you like to expand your organization?
Lopamudra: Our greatest success – biggest satisfaction: Since the inception of BCH & by executing our mission, we have helped save more than ~5000 lives by helping them to be detected early, analyzing the reports, connecting the suspicious cases towards the healthcare navigators. We have followed up with patients as I communicate via email & WhatsApp.
The idea of Breast Cancer Hub is a network of like-minded people, young students, collaboration with hospitals, doctors, other non-profit organizations with the same vision and purpose to expand this globally across all countries (currently working in US & India), to make a hyper network of BCH wings and tentacles to save more lives via education, adopting more villages, EXPANDING our epidemiological studies, research, fieldwork for awareness, innovative and affordable screening options and support for the patient treatments for underprivileged people.
Passion Piece: What else would you like to work on? Are you thinking of any new projects?
Lopamudra: New projects emerge through the need of the situation. I always try to improvise & act effectively & immediately based on developing trends as well as current events. For new projects in the pipeline – extensive cancer awareness sessions via web seminars as opposed to in-person outreach sessions due to COVID-19, plan to adopt more villages with donor support, innovative virtual youth ambassador projects to generate awareness & summer internship programs.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time? How do you try to keep the right balance between your private and professional life?
Lopamudra: I love to dance & experiment with cooking… But with the current expansion of BCH, 24 hours is falling short & I have forgotten the “Free Time” concept. I try to keep the right balance by engaging my kids with BCH work & teaching them to volunteer & help; doing fun activities or errands together, cooking as a family & do our best to dine every meal with no device in hand.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Lopamudra: I believe, I would be in a position to help increase the survival rate with Breast Cancer significantly, each woman & man getting detected early with all type of Cancer, supporting our patient and advocate network worldwide, adopting more villages, expanding our outreach & screening to underprivileged sectors in Developed & Developing countries, fund more financially extremely poor patients, BCH youth ambassadors saving lives all across & as we drive this transformation, we bring everyone together through network & collaboration.
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I wish you continued success with executing your mission and saving people’s lives.
I firmly believe that Lopamudra is a wonderful example of a person who has used her passion for a much higher purpose, we could say for the highest purpose, as there is no more important value than our lives and our health. Cancer awareness, as well as the awareness related to other kinds of diseases should be well spread on a massive scale, as only in this way we will reach all the people who need our help, the ones who due to different reasons cannot get help in other places. Take care of yourselves, you should do it for yourselves, but also for your closest ones.
See you around!
Photos by: Dr Lopamudra Das Roy