Bhutan Cancer Society – formed by survivors to inspire others to fight

The party president of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), a cancer survivor, the Gynecologist with the Thimphu National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) Dr. Ugyen Tshomo and Dechen Wangmo who lost her mother and grandmother to cancer are the names of individuals who have formed the Bhutan Cancer Society (BCS) with an objective to save lives and support cancer patients in Bhutan.

For the first time, BCS coinciding with the ‘World Cancer Day’, will light a thousand butter lamps on 4 February at the National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu dedicated to all  cancer patients.

Through a panel discussion on BBS in the evening, the group would raise awareness and educate people on how to fight cancer and also clear myths about cancer.

BCS is currently working toward its registration and will focus on preventive measures and supportive care which includes raising awareness on cancer and demystifying cancer, supporting and conducting research on causes of cancer and promoting preventive activities once the causes have been identified, provide information and support to people with cancer, with a 24 hours hotline for counseling patients and their care-givers.

It will also provide social support for many poor people from rural Bhutan who come to Thimphu for cancer treatment and remain in the capital for several months.

BCS will urge public officials to make cancer a national health priority and initiate Cancer Registry to find out the exact data on incidence and deaths.

It invites cancer survivors as well as those whose lives have been affected by cancers to join the butter lamp event at 10 am. “This is the perfect chance to express solidarity and raise awareness of the ways one can prevent cancer through the choices an individual makes,” the press release reads.

As 4th of February  is observed as “World Cancer Day” this year it will focus on dispelling damaging-myths and misconceptions about cancer, with the theme “Cancer – Did you know?”

The day was first organized by the International Union against Cancer in 2005. The World Cancer Day this year is targeted at improving knowledge about cancer and dismissing these 4 myths:


Myth 1: Cancer is just a health issue. Truth: Cancer is not just a health issue. It has wide-reaching social, economic, development, and human rights implications.


Myth 2: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries. Truth: Cancer is a global epidemic. It affects all ages and socio-economic groups, with developing countries bearing a disproportionate burden.


Myth 3: Cancer is a death sentence. Truth: Many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be cured and for many more people, their cancer can be treated effectively.


Myth 4: Cancer is my fate. Truth: With the right strategies, a third of the most common cancers can be prevented.

The DCT president Lily Wangchuk, shared her feelings when she was diagnosed with cancer. “It was a mixed emotions ranging from anger with wrong diagnosis and wrong treatment for several months,to a feeling of disbelief and helplessness.”

Cancer is believed to be a curse, and she wondered why it happened to her when she had not harmed anyone in her lifetime. She felt she didn’t “deserve it”.Cancer treatment can be very harsh both physically and emotionally weak. Lily said that at times the pain was so strong that she felt like it was putting an end to her life,.She was encouraged by the people around her, to fight the battle which gave her renewed strength and courage followed by a period of self-reflection and contemplation.

She even questioned herself, “Why in the first place should I make an effort to fight and live if life was all about birth, sickness and death.”

She was reminded of what she learned as a child, the purpose of life is to attain enlightenment to free oneself from Samsara and so she began searching for a higher purpose.

“I eventually realized that my suffering had a reason which gave opportunity for self reflection on my own mission in life,” she said adding “it was important for me to live to be able to fulfill the true purpose of one’s life and new purpose to make positive differences in lives of other people through politics.”

This new found purpose and the motivation to leave a legacy behind had given her a renewed sense of purpose and higher motivation to fight cancer.

Looking back, she feels cancer was a big blessing which reminded her of impermanence. And today, she has no attachment for wealth, power and fame which she realized couldn’t be taken along after death. Good deeds on the other hand would leave behind a positive legacy.

Many wonder why early stage cancer don’t make it while advanced stage cancer patients recover, the simple answer she said “is a choice that once made, influences the power of thought”.

While battling with cancer, she said, one should not rely on medical treatment alone because the treatment is so aggressive that it can sometimes lead to death but half of the battle has to be won by the power of mind.

Our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and emotions play a vital role to play while battling with cancer, she added.

Each year over 12.7mn people receive a cancer diagnosis and 7.6mn lives are lost to cancer worldwide. This is more than AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria combined, according to the Union for International Cancer Control.In Bhutan, more than 2,000 cancer cases were admitted in JDWNRH in 2011 out of which 898 patients were referred outside Bhutan. 25% were cancer cases in the financial year 2011-2012.

Besides these recorded figures there several hundreds who die across the country with late diagnosis or from the side-effects of the harsh treatment and lack of psychological support.

The lives of many families in Bhutan have been affected by cancer and the number of cancer patients is continually increasing each year.

The most common cancers diagnosed in Bhutan are Cancers of stomach and food pipe, Cervical cancer, Cancers of head and neck (including mouth, throat and nose), Cancer of lung, liver, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers.

With no extensive research carried out so far for causes of common types of cancer in Bhutan, according to experts 25% of cancers are caused by infections, like HPV (cervical cancer) , Hepatitis B (liver cancer), H.pylori (stomach) etc.

Cancers of the mouth could be related to betel-chewing (Doma) and tobacco chewing, eating dry and salted fish is also associated with nose cancer. Moreover, Bhutanese habit of eating dried food stuffs may be associated with stomach cancer (similar findings in Kashmir, India).

Banning of tobacco products, Vaccination of girls with HPV to prevent cervical cancer, Pap Smear Screening for cervical cancer, Hepatitis B vaccination of all new born babies and Endoscopy of people with chronic upper abdominal pain etc. were some of the initiative programs which the Ministry of Health (MoH) had initiated in order to control cancer.

However, prevention and control of cancer needs more than the current initiatives by the government.“Therefore, the need for an NGO was felt necessary that could complement the efforts of the government,”  Lily stated.

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  1. This is such a noble initiative by Madam Lily Wangchuk. She never ceases to amaze me…first it was her battle with cancer, than leading a political party which even men don’t dare and now initiating Bhutan Cancer Society. She is multi talented and with selfless that she can bring great change to our country if she gets elected and her party wins. I hope she will win and become our first woman PM

  2. I have deepest admiration and respect for lily wangchuk. she is always well meaning and I think she will be a great leader for Bhutan with her selfless nature and leadership qualities.I will certainly volunteer for BCS and her cause

  3. Many thanks for your admirable efforts to raise awareness and support.  I have visited Bhutan, on a celebratory trip to mark my two years at the end of treatment for breast cancer.  Next year, for World Cancer Day, I will light a butter lamp here in San Francisco. 

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