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A Young Lahore Woman With Advanced Cancer Is Caught In The India-Pakistan Diplomatic Crossfire

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11/07/2017 6:42 PM IST | Updated 12/07/2017 9:39 AM IST
Faiza Tanveer's Twitter account.

Faiza Tanveer discovered she had a tumour in her mouth, the same year her brother died in an accident. She was eighteen-years-old. "It was a difficult year, 2010 that is," she tells HuffPost India over phone from Lahore, Pakistan. Faiza, brought up by a single mother and an aunt, was taken to some local doctors who didn't read much into the abscess initially. It was only when the pain became sharper and the tumour grew that doctors realised something was wrong. Only, they weren't able to tell what was wrong. Meanwhile, Faiza's tumour kept growing and the pain became unrelenting and unbearable. Sometime in 2012, Faiza was diagnosed with recurrent ameloblastoma, a form of oral cancer where the tumour grows aggressively.

She then underwent 18 surgeries through 2012, 2013 and 2014. And yet, the tumour kept growing back.

"Pakistan main doctor ne jawab de diya tha (the Pakistan doctors had given up hope). They said nothing can be done now," Faiza says. A report on Dawn newspaper claims that the Pakistani hospital Faiza was getting treated at told her that they cannot administer targeted chemotherapy on the tumour as it could permanently damage her eyes, nose and ears.

So, in February 2017 the M.Com student, now 25-years-old, decided to search for treatments in other countries. Through online research she found treatments available in UK, US, Singapore. However, there was one big hiccup in the process. Faiza's mother makes a living from washing people's clothes and she herself is a student with meagre savings. She would never be able to pay for the cost of treatment in these countries.

"That apart, there were several options in India and the reassurance of being able to communicate easily with doctors was also there," Faiza says.

She zeroed in on a dental college and hospital in Ghaziabad in February this year. The treatment would cost her $20,000 (Rs 12,00,000 approximately).

Faiza requested HuffPost India to not name the hospital as she didn't want the organisation to get unnecessary bad press or 'get into legal trouble'.

Since her family couldn't afford even that amount, Faiza says she started a fundraiser where she appealed to her university and the teachers organised a drive to raise money for her treatment. "I needed the surgery in March itself, but didn't have the money. After I raised some money, I paid the hospital an advance after the course of treatment was decided upon and I applied for a 20-day medical visa to India," she says.

And this is where she says that her plans ran into a dead end. She was denied a visa by India and the 'deteriorating relations' between the two countries were cited as the reason.

HuffPost India spoke to the hospital which was scheduled to perform the surgery. The secretary told that while he cannot comment on the exact procedure that was decided upon by the doctor attending to Faiza, he had been informed that her condition was fairly grave. "She had paid an advance. We decided on a course of treatment and sent her the invitation to stay in India and get treated, which is crucial to get visas in cases like this. However, she later informed us that her visa has gotten rejected," he told HuffPost India.

Faiza told us that the hospital recently refunded the entire amount paid to them since there seemed to be no headway in the process of acquiring a visa.

Someone informed Faiza that Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was usually helpful in these cases, so she set up a Twitter account in July to reach out to her. Starting July 5, Faiza sent a series of tweets to Swaraj appealing for help. She also sent tweets with pictures and videos which she claims are hers, which shows her face disfigured due to the tumour and several surgeries. Apart from Swaraj, she also tagged Shehbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab in some tweets.

"I tried several government avenues in Pakistan, but didn't get any help from them. Didn't get any financial help either from the CM's office," she says.

Though the Twitter account was set up in July, Faiza seems to have been active on it, constantly tagging Swaraj and responding to everyone who is tweeting at her. Some users alleged that her profile is fake and her story as well. In a counter, Faiza has tweeted out her personal mobile number, challenging people to check the veracity of her claims.

Sushma Swaraj response.

Sushma Swaraj response.

However, the reporter who covered Faiza's story for Dawn told HuffPost India that he had visited Faiza's home in Lahore and could vouch for the authenticity of her claims. He even added that her mother was distraught at her daughter's plight and often broke down during the conversation.

Though Swaraj didn't directly tweet back at Faiza, on 9 July, she sent out a series of tweets where she claimed if Pakistani nationals can produce letters written by Sartaz Aziz -- an economist who is a member of Pakistan's federal cabinet and who calls the shots on foreign affairs -- they will be immediately granted a visa. In fact, she said that any Pakistani seeking medical treatment in India could be immediately given a visa if Aziz wrote a recommendation for them. Swaraj, however, also added in the same thread that Avantika Jadhav, mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav, wanted to meet her son who is on a death row in Pakistan. She alleged that she had written a letter to Aziz appealing that Jadhav be granted a visa (she was denied one) but he didn't show the courtesy to even respond to it. In that very thread, she took a dig at Aziz, commenting that he must, at least, be concerned about the country's own citizens.

Faiza, however, said that she has not received any communication from either Pakistan or India on the status of her visa and is not sure if Aziz will write a recommendation on her behalf. "I can't eat solid food anymore, only soft food and liquids. I haven't slept in days because I can't breathe properly if I lie down straight. I don't know when all this will end."

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