She Danced Her Cancers Away
As if she danced and played with fatal diseases that inflicted her in the prime of her life. Or how else would you explain this lady, Dr (Mrs) Navneet Kaur Pal’s ‘joie de vivre’? Dr Pal, who advises UK’s health secretary on health policies and reforms needed, had a double whammy, in the form of two cancers in a row, that of breast and thyroid. But she won this fatal cliffhanger with a kind of equanimity and poise rarely witnessed and seems to be in the realm of impossible. After hearing her tale, you would not be faulted for being a little filmy about her, asking—kis chakki ka ata khati hain aap (what mill prepares your flour).
And boy, what fund of happy hormones this jocund lady of 52 is still endowed with! Even one cancer saps one’s energy and, even if one survives, it leaves one just a pale shadow of one’s former self. Still one earns the sobriquet of being a fighter. Surprisingly enough, her youthful vigour is still intact. And after such harrowing experiences, she has come to India to catch hold of diseases in their tracks and stop them from progressing further. Starting from Delhi and aiming pan-India later, she has unveiled a model of primary health care that will really redefine the whole concept of wellness here. She, one of the heads of Pathfinder Limited, a company constituted of veritable Who’s Who of famed National Health Service (NHS) of the UK, wants to replicate it. Three primary health centres a la NHS, dimming even corporate hospitals in terms of ambience and quality of services, have already started running in Delhi and will swell to fifty in one year’s time or so.
She shuffles back and forth between the UK and India. An NHS General Practitioner (GP) at Smithwick Medical Centre, Birmingham, Dr Pal was in Delhi last week as a member of the delegation of Welcome Trust, world’s biggest funding agency for research and education.
In a tete-a-tete with Uday India, her charm offensive was at her best. Her radiant smile and bubbly talkativeness trumped the writer completely.
She says: “I want to change the world before I die, so is in a hurry, not knowing when death would come. The space of your magazine will not permit the details of how I won my cancer battle. My cancer treatment took over three years. Of course, my victory has a lot to do with the kind of healthcare system I was in but God has endowed me with abundant fighting spirit too. Chemotherapy had made me bald. But cancers could not hold me in my tracks.” It was the time when Piramal Foundation of India had invited project blueprint for democratised healthcare system for India. 800 entries came from all over the world; her project paper, which she had created in the midst of cancer agony, figured in the last four. She had travelled to India many a time to study the terrain. She says: “I found that in India quality treatment is unaffordable for commoners and I resolved to change it if stayed alive. After giving 20 years of my service in England, I have now time to serve my nation. I have not come to India to make money. As a member of Future Forum of NHS, a wellknown health think tank in the UK (National Health Service), I have resolved to give India a wellness model. India can put in place a universal healthcare system only if it adopts a cost-effective healthcare system.”
Surprisingly, she listed diabetes as her most favourite hobby as cancers were adventures for her. In fact, her 21-year-old son Jayavir has type 1diabetes. As Chairman of the Diabetes Prevention Forum of Europe, she does a lot of charity works for diabetics. She fundraises for them in which her dancing prowess stands her in good stead.
She annually organises a Bollywood Ball in Birmingham as a fundraising event, where even white-skinned Briton ladies take part. An expert Kathak and Bhangra dancer she teaches her lady patients to dance their illnesses away, believing nothing is as effective an anti-depressant as dance is.
That she is a fighter was in evidence even when she was merely a 6-year-old school-going girl in Rohtak. She used to learn dance. “While all my friends would run away from the dance guru’s house in the middle of dancing lesson, little Navneet aka Niti would not till she perfected her dancing chores.”
By D Kumar