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Honoring a Life Interrupted: An Interview with Dr. Parul Makkar

by | Jun 5, 2022 | General Medical News, Issue 148, Issues | 0 comments

In March 2021, a young, talented dentist passed away at age 34 from oral cancer. While battling this illness, he sold his dental practice and began writing a series of...
Honoring a Life Interrupted: An Interview with Dr. Parul Makkar

In March 2021, a young, talented dentist passed away at age 34 from oral cancer. While battling this illness, he sold his dental practice and began writing a series of blogs about his experience. His writings made it clear that he had accepted what life had given him, found peace and offered his readers words of comfort and wisdom. After his passing, his sister, a talented dentist herself, compiled his blogs and published them in a book, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

That incredible young man was Dr. Manu Dua, and his sister was Dr. Parul Dua Makkar. In the year since her brother’s passing, Dr. Makkar has devoted much of her time to honor his memory. In addition to publishing the book, she advocates for awareness and early detection of oral cancer. 

“I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the best way to approach setbacks in life is to understand that they are simply new beginnings.”

~ Dr. Manu Dua, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

Dr. Parul Dua Makkar

Dr. Makkar has practiced dentistry for over 15 years. She currently runs her practice, PDM Family Dental, in Jericho, New York. 

“I always wanted to be in the medical field,” she said. “Dentistry afforded me a work-life balance that other medical professions did not have. I have the flexibility to be a mom and work as much as I need to.”

Dr. Makkar greatly values the relationships she builds with patients and their families. 

“I treat a patient and their children or parents. It’s not just teeth; we’re talking about the person behind the teeth. I like to have my patients go home happier,” she said.

“We are far more capable and resilient than we can begin to imagine.”

~ Dr. Manu Dua, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

Honoring a Courageous Man

The pandemic limited Dr. Makkar’s ability to be with her brother. 

“I couldn’t help him as much as I wish I could have by getting treatment and getting the earlier diagnosis,” she said.

 Dr. Dua did not fit the typical demographic for oral cancer. He was young and didn’t use tobacco or drink heavily. However, he was diagnosed at a later stage, and the cause was a mystery.

 After he passed, Dr. Makkar became involved in promoting oral cancer awareness among patients and the medical profession. She emphasized the importance of early detection. 

“We can prevent deaths if we get to treat cancer earlier. It can save lives,” Dr. Makkar said. 

“Somewhere between all the pain and suffering, all the loss and despair, I found peace and happiness that I had never attained while I was healthy.”

~ Dr. Manu Dua, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

About Oral Cancer

Statistics

Oral cancer is aggressive. In the United States, 54,000 people are annually diagnosed with this disease. About half will not live beyond five years. 

Early symptoms include a sore throat that won’t heal, a lump, red spots, swelling and hoarseness. Since they do not seem severe, the symptoms are usually dismissed. Unfortunately, this disease has a high death rate mainly because it is often not discovered until advanced stages. However, the survival rate jumps to 80% to 90% when discovered early. 

Demographics

For decades, the typical demographic was primarily men over 40 who regularly use alcohol and tobacco. But younger people have joined the demographic. Studies have shown a causal link between the human papillomavirus version 16 (HPV16) and oral cancer. 

Also, young people are using tobacco products and vaping. There is already evidence that vaping may contain carcinogens

An Advocate for Early Detection

The most significant factor in beating oral cancer is early detection. But there is little public awareness and no national screening program. Dr. Makkar is working to change that.

In a recent interview, she reminded people, especially the youth, that oral cancer is on the rise and that attention to symptoms is imperative.

Spreading the Message

“I’ve been doing a lot of podcasts, writing articles and raising money for the Oral Cancer Foundation. Some of the proceeds of the book sales go to the foundation,” Dr. Makkar said.

Dr. Makkar wants patients to understand how important it is to see their dentist right away if anything looks or feels out of the ordinary. 

 “Focus on good oral care, come to the dentist to be evaluated, do self screenings and pay attention to your body. Are you having a hard time swallowing? Does one side feel different than the other?” Dr. Makkar asked.

Obstacles to Early Detection

The pandemic has made it harder for many patients to access dental care and possible early detection. 

“Patients have shied away from coming to the dentist because they have to be without their masks. Also, insurance reimbursement rates have dropped,” Dr. Makkar said.

In addition, many dental practices are short-staffed. About 30% to 40% of dentists were having difficulty hiring dental assistants and hygienists in 2021. 

“I think after the pandemic, people started going back to school, or they changed their profession because they needed work,” she said.

“The only manner in which we can survive the multitudes of adversity that are bestowed upon us is to implement an equally illogical and irrational resolve to persevere.”

~ Dr. Manu Dua, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

Life Interrupted: A Beautiful Legacy

During the pandemic, Dr. Dua was immunocompromised and could not travel. So he used writing as an outlet and therapy. Dr. Makkar explains how the book came to be. 

“He wanted to publish, so I put his writings together. I wrote a small forward and a longer epilogue. The latter was vital because it showed the reader that he was more than the disease that took him. This was his desire, his work. I just compiled it and made it a reality,” Dr. Makkar said.

“One of the most important things that I have learned during these turbulent and difficult times is to accept the loss of control and continue to ride the wave day by day.”

~ Dr. Manu Dua, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

A Parting Reminder

Dr. Manu Dua reached beyond his pain and shared words of insight and comfort for those who may be dealing with physical or emotional pains of their own. To honor his courage, Dr. Parul Dua Makkar stepped past her grief, the depth of which we will never fully understand, and channeled it into spreading her brother’s message. 

“This is Manu’s story that has become my story. He started the journey, and I’m just helping him go on with it,” Dr. Makkar said.

“In creating something of value that will outlast us, we will in essence take a first step of immortality.”

~ Dr. Manu Dua, Life Interrupted: Dr. Dua’s Survival Guide

Gaye Newton
Gaye Newton