Nearly three months ago, when Bhawani Peth resident Kabir Khan was performing his brother’s last rites, a fear engulfed him.
His elder brother died at the age of 49 after struggling for many months with mouth cancer. Khan knew well about his elder brother’s gutka chewing habits. He also remembered the doctor’s advice that years of gutka chewing might have led to the deadly disease.
The younger Khan too chewed at least 10-12 gutka packets a day and was now fearful that the lump in his mouth that refused to go might turn out to be cancerous despite several local treatments. On March 17, he laid his brother to rest and two days later he went to visit his brother’s oncologist for a check-up.
“His brother got affected with the same cancer and Kabir was tending to him. After his brother underwent operations, his face got disfigured. Kabir got very scared on seeing all that and didn’t tell us for a long time about his problem,” said Kaleem Kazi, a bank employee and Kabir’s friend and maternal cousin.
“It was only after his brother’s death that we noticed a hard lump on the right side of his face and he disclosed about his problem,” Kazi added.
Several sessions of chemotherapy have followed since then, but Kabir’s cancer has progressed.
Part of his right cheek has been eaten up by cancer and he has lost all his hair too. “He can barely open his mouth by half an inch and we cannot even understand what he speaks at times,” said Kazi. DNA’s series on gutka-affected families prompted Kazi to share his friend’s story.
“They were four brothers and two sisters. Two brothers died natural deaths. One has died of gutka cancer and Kabir’s fate is unknown. Their family was very rich as they had a successful cement business. But since the breadwinners are dead, the business has shut. They lost their flats, cars and are today dependent on relatives and friends for medicine and food,” said Kazi.
Though he is also helping his friend in his time of crisis, he admits it is not enough.
“Their income is zero and expenses are at least Rs40,000 per month for medicines. Yet, Kabir’s only worry is his two unmarried sisters. They were dependent on him and he keeps begging everyone to look after them if something happens to him. This gutka addiction is really evil and I felt very strongly to say this after seeing my friend’s family getting destroyed because of it,” said Kazi.