‘Asian elderly suffer illness in silence’

IN MEMORY OF: Malkit Singh Dhaliwal holds a picture of his wife Mohinder Kaur who died from myeloma

by LAUREN CODLING

ELDERLY Asians have been urged to speak out about their health concerns, as a new UK campaign was recently launched in Punjabi to “stress that language holds no barrier in raising awareness”.

Malkit Singh Dhaliwal, 82, is fronting the Shout About Myeloma campaign which hopes to raise awareness of myeloma, the third most common form of blood cancer in the UK. The Myeloma UK campaign is in memory of his wife Mohinder Kaur, who sadly passed away from myeloma in 2011.

Speaking in Punjabi throughout the video, Malkit hopes to emphasise that “language holds no barrier in raising awareness”.

“I feel very proud to tell the story of my wife and raise awareness of myeloma speaking Punjabi,” Malkit said. “I feel it is an important message to promote that we may all speak different languages, but we have the same goal – to make myeloma history.”

Myeloma is most common in patients over the age of 65, although it can also be present in children. There are approximately 17,500 people living with myeloma at any one time.

Speaking to Eastern Eye on behalf of Malkit is his granddaughter Ajit Dhaliwal. Expressing pride at her grandfather’s decision to support the campaign, Ajit said she hopes that it can raise awareness in the Asian community.

Ajit believes that many elderly British Asians may feel reluctant to ask for help from either their doctor or local community care services.

“There are a vast number of Indian people who, although meet socially through families or at the temples, often feel conflicted about speaking about illness as they are concerned it can be seen as a weakness,” she explained.

Hopeful the campaign can raise awareness of the illness – such as specifics relating to the early symptoms – Ajit added she hopes the Asian community feel comfortable reaching out to support systems if they have any concerns.

“Generally, within the Asian community, elderly people don’t talk about this stuff and they suffer in silence,” she said.

Mohinder had suffered from myeloma for 16 years. Only a young child when her grandmother was diagnosed, Ajit does not fully recall when she understood the illness.

Malkit Singh Dhaliwal, 82, is fronting the Shout About Myeloma campaign

However, she can remember reaching out to Myeloma UK as she was growing up. In the months leading up to her grandmother’s passing, Ajit called the charity.

Describing the conversation as “something that would stay with (her) for the rest of (her) life,” Ajit spoke with the organisation on the expectations of her grandmother’s final days.

“It was an emotionally difficult time and it wasn’t something I wanted to vocalise to my family. So it was very helpful to speak with someone who had the medical knowledge that I knew I would not upset by asking the questions,” she recalled.

“It was so helpful having someone to talk to – they definitely broke down the barriers and there was no questions off limit.”

The blood cancer charity had previously offered support to Ajit’s family, including her grandfather and father.

Malkit, originally from the Punjab, can speak English but it is not his first language. However, Ajit said Myeloma UK made sure that he was able to understand any information given to him.

If her grandmother was alive today, Ajit hopes that she would be proud of Malkit’s efforts to raise awareness.

Remembering her grandmother, Ajit described her as a “humble, very caring and very compassionate” person.

On the campaign, Ajit hopes it can honour her grandmother’s memory.

“Even if it impacts one person, that would be great in my grandmother’s memory, given the sort of person that she is – to make someone feel a little less daunted if they find themselves in the situation,” she said.

“I’m very proud and I hope people come out of their shell a little bit.”

See more on Myeloma UK here: https://www.myeloma.org.uk/