Story of Roshan Wankhede, 17 year-old Gutka Addict & Cancer Survivor

Roshan Wankhede is all of 17 years. He is from a small village in the Amravati district. The family lives on farming; money is difficult to come by. Roshan’s parents are waiting for him to finish his education and start earning so that their monetary problems can be solved. Roshan would have passed his HSC exams next year, but he will not be able to. Doctors say that Roshan is suffering from last-stage mouth cancer and may not live another year.

Roshan was 13 years old when he first started consuming tobacco because of peer pressure. A sachet or two occasionally, soon turned to seven to eight sachets a day. Today, neither Roshan nor his parents know the severity of the consequences of his tobacco-chewing habit.

“I wanted to try what all my friends did. Out of the 50 students in our class, about 10 had pan masala. It was all for fun,” said Roshan. “My parents didn’t know that I had this habit. I didn’t have it at home. We had it before and after school from the shops nearby,” he said.

What started as small ulcers developed as a full-fledged cancer on the roof of Roshan’s mouth in a matter of months. Local doctors directly advised him to go to Tata Memorial Hospital, as they were sure that it was more than just ulcers. “We are going to remove his upper jaw with a surgery, which will be followed by radiotherapy,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, oral oncologist at Tata Memorial Hospital, where Roshan is being treated. “He has a slim chance of surviving more than a year as fourth-stage cancers are generally difficult to save anyway.”

Roshan had, however, given up the habit of chewing tobacco some time before he developed the cancer. He said his decision followed the increase in the font size of the warning on gutka packets. “Earlier, there used to be a scorpion on the packet. We didn’t know what it meant. Then the price of a sachet increased from Re 1 to Rs 5, because of which our consumption reduced to three packets a day. It was only when the warning ‘Tobacco causes cancer’ came in a bigger font that we all stopped having tobacco completely.”

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