Living with Cancer – Discovering a new normal

Viji Venkatesh – Region Head, India & South Asia, The Max Foundation

Who doesn’t like to attend communication summits? Everyone does. But not everyone gets the opportunity to do so, especially at a student level. SCoRe – The School of Communication and Reputation offers its students learning and networking opportunities through volunteering at various events. I was looking forward to attending the Influence Now Communication Conclave scheduled to be held at Godrej Hubble, Mumbai. The topic for the day was – Influence in Middle India: Reaching Consumers Beyond the Metros. The day was complete with back to back amazing sessions from senior business leaders.

The speaker whom I could connect with the most was Viji Venkatesh, Region Head, India & South Asia –The Max Foundation. Her talk focused on ‘How an international non-profit influences an audience of patients in tier 2 India.’ She started the session by sharing the story behind the establishment of The Max Foundation. It all started with a boy who courageously fought a typical kind of blood cancer – chronic myeloid leukemia for three years but unfortunately could not survive it. The family was then determined to help other families in similar situations. What began as a small foundation with few volunteers has today grown into a global foundation serving people living with cancer across the globe.

The Max Foundation supports patients in tier 2 areas by providing regular medication at minimal or no cost. It keeps the patient under constant care, monitors the spread of cancer and works towards better management of the illness. The medication may not cure cancer but it helps in keeping it under control. However, since there are many myths and superstitions around cancer, there are many hurdles the volunteers face while approaching patients in tier 2 areas. People’s beliefs act as a hindrance in the treatment of the disease. Due to these myths, 85% of patients live in fear and do not openly discuss the illness.

The outreach programmes with the oncologists and experts has helped patients in ‘Discovering a New Normal’. Volunteers from The Max Foundation conduct sessions to inform the patients about the illness in local languages. This gives them confidence to go forward with the treatment. When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, it feels like the illness has taken away everything with it. The outreach programme helps the patients in reclaiming what they have lost.

Social media has also played an important role in breaking the stigma behind cancer. It has helped in bringing together the cancer patients in Middle India as they have leveraged the use of social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. They have found new family members and friends through support group programmes, periodic meetings and social media. ‘Chai for Cancer’, is another initiative taken by Viji Venkatesh by hosting Chai Addas in various cities and collecting contributions for helping the cancer patients. Breaking the ice around a serious issue like cancer through chai was a brilliant initiative. During the first Chai Adda, they collected Rs 1.2 lac for the foundation. All the above mentioned initiatives have changed the perception of people living with cancer towards the illness and now they lead their life like a normal people.

It was an insightful and inspiring session.

Sushabya Pradhan
Sushabya is a Bachelor of Arts with specialisation in Journalism and Psychology from M S Ramaiah College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Bangalore.

Her love for meeting new people and desire for learning drove her towards the field of Public Relations. She completed her PR internship with Avian WE, Mumbai

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