Chai for Cancer

Chai for Cancer USA: Raise a Cup Together

Launched in 2015, Chai for Cancer USA raises funds to provide treatment access for patients in India. The campaign’s inspiration and namesake come from our own Region Head for South Asia, Viji Venkatesh, who started the original Chai for Cancer campaign in India one year earlier.

For the past three years, supporters across the United States and in Canada have volunteered to host Chai Adda (tea parties) fundraisers at their homes, or have raised a cup virtually by donating online. No matter how people have gotten involved, their efforts have all contributed much-needed support to people in India facing a cancer diagnosis.

Pramod George – father, husband, media professional, and CML survivor – is one such person, and this is his story.

A Routine Blood Test

Dengue fever was knocking at various doors in and around town and the concern prompted me to visit my doctor, a close family friend. I had no symptoms, but just to be safe, he recommended I visit a local clinic for blood and urine tests. When I took the reports back to my doctor, he was confused. My white blood cell count (WBC) was 26,100 – far too high for a healthy adult (4,500 to 10,000 is normal). He suspected the report was faulty, advised some medicines, and told me to take another blood test from a different clinic after two days.

It Might Be Leukemia

The next report showed my WBC at 29,900. He recommended more medicines – this time for a week – and told me we’d have to do further studies if my WBC count did not come down. When the next test showed a 28,300 WBC, he told me to go see a specialist, Dr. M. B. Aggarwal. I asked my doctor what might be wrong and – though he couldn’t yet confirm it – he suspected I might have leukemia.

A ‘Good Type’ of Cancer

After Dr. Aggarwal reviewed my case, he recommended a bone marrow biopsy and I agreed. When the reports came back he congratulated me on having a ‘good type’ of cancer. By that, he meant a cancer for which medicine was available. I was diagnosed with CML. For treatment, he prescribed a generic drug called VEENAT and gave me a list of suppliers that would help get the medicine at a reduced price.

Sharing the News

I broke the news at home that night. My family was all set to cry. I told them that I had overcome the bad part of the news the moment the doctor had congratulated me. I asked them to be strong for me so that I would cope. Whatever illness I had was a gift given by God to me, similar to my life. I did not come into this world by choice, so I would not leave this world by choice either. Like every hair on my head is numbered in His book, so is my every day.

A Second Gift

Once, while discussing some financial issues with Dr. Aggarwal, he asked me if I was getting any support for my medicines from my place of work. When I said no, he asked me to get my salary certificate with a letter from my company saying they weren’t supporting me. He said with these two letters, along with my photograph and a few other papers, I would be able to get the original medicine, GLIVEC, free from Novartis through The Max Foundation. I reconfirmed this with him several times before getting the papers ready.

I had to go to The Max Foundation only once. I met Ayesha on my visit there and soon an email came as a blessing, stating their approval. If getting diagnosed with CML was God’s first gift, this was the second.

If you’re interested in supporting patients like Pramod, please consider participating in Chai for Cancer USA. You can get involved virtually by making a donation online or gather with friends and host an adda of your own!

A Chance Encounter

I am Shalini, working for The Max Foundation from my home office at Madurai, India. Through my work, I come across a lot of incidents that make me feel satisfied and fulfilled in our work. Allow me to share one such incident.

It was windy evening and I was with a friend going to a nearby vegetable market on a local bus. My friend asked, “What kind of service do you do at The Max Foundation?” So I started sharing in a very loud voice as I rarely get a chance to express my happiness for the work we do!

Suddenly, I noticed a man sitting just opposite to me staring at me. I thought he was annoyed at my loud voice. so I reduced my volume and kept on talking with my friend. While explaining, my eyes went towards the man. Again I noticed he was keenly listening to our conversation.

Finally the stop came! I got down with my friend and took 10 steps.

I heard a voice behind me calling “Madam, madam!” When I turned back I saw the same man calling me. My mind started thinking many things like “Did I miss my purse or mobile on the bus?” He moved towards me. I addressed him, ‘Anna’ means Brother in Tamil. He said “Dear madam! I just got down to thank you for the service you do. I was listening to the conversation and I know The Max Foundation very well. My friend gets medicine with your help.”

He shared his own story of The Max Foundation’s work:

It was 8 years ago, when this stranger was working with Tamilnadu Electricity Board and befriended a work colleague in Madurai.

One day his friend came with a sad news that he had chronic myeloid leukemia.

His friend lost all hope and was very depressed. But after consulting with a physician at Adayar Cancer Center, Chennai, and with the help of The Max Foundation, he was able to access his life-saving treatment. Now, this patient is still in our program and works with his physician to adhere to his medication. It was great to hear that the patient is doing well and is regular in his checkups.

I must say, after the conversation with this stranger, I had goosebumps. I was feeling very proud to be a member of the Max team!

I must mention my special gratitude towards the patient’s friend for getting down from the bus just to thanks us. His story made my day – a day to remember and cherish all my life.

The Brave Fisherwoman: In Remembrance of Hira Goma

I share this story to talk about a dear patient and friend, Hira Goma, whose determination and inner strength in the face of her cancer diagnosis have been an inspiration to me for the many years I have known her. Just recently and out of nowhere, we lost Hira after the sudden onset of a malignancy unrelated to her cancer, which took her away from us in just two weeks.

I pray that Hira’s family will find the strength to cope with her passing and that all who knew and loved her will also find whatever we need to help us come to terms with her passing. I also hope that in telling her story, I can in some small way celebrate and honor her life and her strength and that she can continue to inspire others.

Hira Goma was a deceptively diminutive Koli fisherwomen from the seaside village of Pachubandar, which lies to the far North West of Mumbai and has been home to generations of Kolis who are the city’s traditional fishing community. Like many other women in her village, Hira’s day began at the break of dawn. Morning chores included cooking for her large extended family, after which she took off to the wharf to get her fish for a day of selling in the bazaar. She was outspoken and cheerful and freely interacted with everyone.

Alongside her husband and other menfolk in the family, she was equally responsible for providing the economic stability her family needed and therefore commanded great respect. Hira returned home only after the heavy load on her head was sold, a task that could take all morning and afternoon to accomplish. 

Times were very tough for Hira and her family during that time. The reckless urban growth that spread well beyond the city limits had begun to ruin the sea and the coastline which was their only source of livelihood, as the fishing expeditions returned with fewer and fewer baskets of increasingly smaller fish. The Kolis were facing a severe crisis already when cancer reared its ugly head in their midst. And it threatened to take away Hira, the mainstay of the family.

The family was devastated. Though Hira was childless, she was a mother to all her nephews and nieces. Her mother was distraught when Hira received her diagnosis, crying out that it was she, the elder woman with a long life behind her that should be taken away by cancer. Beyond the immediate family, the whole community was in shock.

Her husband adored her and was determined to do all that was needed to save her. After all, he said, “we battle the forces of nature when we go out to the sea. We are hardy people and we are ready to die earning our livelihood. What is cancer in the face of the dangers we face every day?”

Harnessing whatever resources they could garner, no stone was left unturned in seeking medical advice in the little fishing village. With time and great effort, they managed to get the diagnosis confirmed and found their way to Tata Memorial Hospital. Once there, it was just another step to the referral to The Max Foundation and access to the treatment that would keep Hira alive and well for over 10 years – Glivec.

In all these years, through all of the struggle and emotional upheaval of her diagnosis, Hira remained her active and busy self. She never missed her daily routine of the wharf and the bazaar, nor did she let her work and routine come in the way of her managing her CML.

Hira never missed a dose, nor neglected to attend her follow up visits, measuring the distance between the city and her fishing village not in kilometers, but in the benefits she received from her treatment. She knew the daily medication kept her alive and active, but would say with a shy smile that lights up her face that even more important than the medicine was the love of her husband. He stood by her throughout the years and never let her feel that her cancer has diminished her in any way, affected her ability to work and live her life as normally as before.

She said that to find The Max Foundation and her dear Amma was like meeting another family – “All the fear and worries disappeared when I met The Max Foundation. Over the years this bond has only grown stronger and deeper”. She was a dear friend and we cherished her, for her personal strength in the face of cancer, for her determination to live life as fully as before her diagnosis, and for her generous and warm spirit.

Hira Goma stood tall and proud and wore her cancer like a medal. I will miss her dearly. Death can never take away life. And it is that life we must celebrate. Even in death. Especially in death.

In honor of Hira, we have published her story as an illustrated patient journey. View and share Hira’s story.

Take the Chai Five challenge to support cancer survivors in India!

Chai for Cancer USA is back for a third year, and we’re building on the success of last year’s campaign, which established a program in India in partnership with Friends of Max, our local patient support arm, to help patients with one of their greatest needs – diagnostic testing. This was all made possible thanks to our generous supporters and our campaign sponsor, Choice Organic Teas!

This year, we have the opportunity to help more patients in need by raising additional funding for this program, and we need your help ensure people in India who are facing cancer get the lifesaving care they require!

How can you help? Take the Chai Five challenge to raise awareness of the needs of cancer survivors while raising funds for their support! What is “Chai Five”? The Chai Five is a list of five simple actions you can take to support people in India who are facing a cancer diagnosis.

How to take the Chai Five challenge:

  • Step 1: Make a donation today to support cancer survivors in India
  • Step 2: Post a #chaifie (selfie with your cup of chai) on social media
  • Step 3: Share a cup of chai with a friend, and ask them to support Chai for Cancer USA (then of course, take another #chaifie)
  • Step 4: Ask your employer to match your donation – this could double or triple the impact of your gift!
  • Step 5: On May 14th, Chai for Cancer Day, share a post on social media (or email your friends) about why you support Chai for Cancer USA, and challenge them to complete the Chai Five with you

When you take the first action of the Chai Five challenge with a gift to support Chai for Cancer USA, you are giving a cancer patient access to the diagnostic test that monitors their disease, and also helping them gain access to the free, lifesaving treatment they receive through The Max Foundation.

Join us in raising a cup of chai to help those facing cancer in India – donate today to take the first action of the Chai Five challenge!

Support Diagnostic Testing for Cancer Patients With A Cup of Chai

As I write this, I am at the beginning of the second year of Chai for Cancer USA, a fundraising campaign that began in my home country of India and has now spread across the United States. Supporters of The Max Foundation are hosting Chai Addas (tea parties) to raise awareness about the needs of cancer survivors in India, and to raise funds for their support while sharing a cup of chai with friends, neighbors, and family.

This year, Chai Addas will be hosted in many new cities, introducing The Max Foundation’s work to new friends across the United States and Canada. This support means the world to the patients I work with every day, because it provides access to the treatment they need to live with dignity, hope, and joy. I’d like to share a story with you that is close to my heart and is an example of how Chai for Cancer USA supports people facing cancer in India.

When he was initially diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, Prashant’s first concerns weren’t whether he would be able to afford treatment, it was about how much time he had left…years? Months? Would he be able to complete his degree? Would he be able to care for his father?

But his doctor reassured him. Treatment was available, and before he could worry about the cost of it, Prashant was connected with The Max Foundation and worked on getting enrolled in the access program we administer.

Still, access to the free, life-saving treatment seemed blocked. In order to enroll, Prashant must first take a diagnostic blood test to confirm his diagnosis. This test would cost over 3,000 rupees ($50 USD), an unimaginable amount for Prashant and his father. Even a season’s full harvest wouldn’t cover the cost of the test. They felt hopeless.

Our colleague steps in to alleviate their distress. She gently shares that the cost of the diagnostic testing can be reimbursed for patients like Prashant. Along with gaining access to the life-saving cancer treatment, they also will receive support to pay for any diagnostic testing.

It was as if the sun burst into the windowless office. With his diagnostic test covered, Prashant was able to fully enroll in the treatment access program without the financial burden on his shoulders. Together, Prashant and his father left the office filled with relief.

Like Prashant, many patients in India cannot afford the cost of diagnostic tests, something that must be done repeatedly throughout their lives (typically four times each year) to ensure their treatment is working. The support we receive through Chai for Cancer USA allows them to take this necessary first step and begin their life-saving treatment. You can playing a vital role in making diagnostic tests are available to many in need – give today to support our patients! Thank you for making this possible.

Chai for Cancer USA 2016: On the Road!

In July, we are kicking off the second year of Chai for Cancer USA, a fundraising campaign that expands access to treatment for people facing cancer in India. For 6 weeks, South Asia Region Head Viji Venkatesh will travel across the country to meet with our friends and supporters, bringing together our community in support of one of the greatest needs of cancer patients in India: diagnostic testing.

This is an era of great advances in cancer treatment – diagnostic testing brings newfound hope, but the cost is a barrier for those who cannot afford the tests required to benefit from free, life-saving treatment. At $50 (3,000 Rupees) per test, required 4 times a year, this is an impossible expense for most patients and their families. The funds raised by Chai for Cancer USA will ensure patients receive the right treatment at the right time.

We are delighted and grateful to have volunteers hosting chai addas (tea parties) around the country, in California, Arizona, Missouri, Washington DC, North Carolina, Washington, New Jersey, British Columbia, and Ontario to raise awareness about the needs of cancer patients while raising funds for their support. Our sponsor Choice Organic Teas is providing the delicious tea, and our adda hosts are opening their homes and hearts, sharing our mission with their community.

Whether you are near or far, you can support the cause! Raise a cup of chai at home and donate online to support Chai for Cancer USA, or if you are in the Seattle area, join us for The Max Foundation’s Adda on August 12th!

Chai for Cancer USA on the Road

blogpost388_1This summer, India Country Head Viji Venkatesh is crisscrossing the USA to host Chai for Cancer addas and share The Max Foundation vision. Started in India, Chai for Cancer is our global initiative to invite our community to partner with us. There have already been a number of events in Houston, Charlotte, and New Jersey with more to come!

We are using chai addas, a term akin to gathering, as a model for bringing people together. Watch Viji explain what an adda is.

Choice Organic Teas has generously donated their spiced chai tea for our events throughout the country. Thank you Choice! But as Viji explains through the story of the Soup Stone, addas are also an opportunity for people to come together and contribute food, snacks, stories, and love on top of the tea. That’s what makes a party!

We have already experienced great community and generosity from people who have attended a Chai for Cancer adda and we hope to see you at a future event. Like our Chai for Cancer Facebook page to get updates about future events and see photos from past events.

Thanks to all of our supporters, new and old, for joining us to Drink to a Cause!

Follow the Patient Journey

Join Gershon as he shares his journey from cancer patient to advocate and leader.
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