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!