Viji Venkatesh is Region Head, South Asia, The Max Foundation/ Managing Trustee at Friends of Max /the Chai addict behind Chai for Cancer / Trustee with Being Human
Viji Venkatesh has worked closely with cancer patients for decades before she began with The Max Foundation in 2001 by leading the administration of Glivec International Patient Assistance Programme in India. Today, in addition to GIPAP, she has a key role in the management of the local Novartis Oncology Access Programme.
In the last 15 years, alongside these access programmes, she has developed the Friends of Max patient support group, which began in Mumbai and now has 15 local chapters across India with over 250 core group volunteer leaders representing more than 18,000 members.
She is also an executive committee members of the Marrow Donor Registry India and the Terry Fox India Committee. She is a trustee of the Being Human – The Salman Khan Foundation as well as the Friends of Max Charitable Trust. Among the several projects she has spearheaded, the one closest to her heart is Chai for Cancer.
Here are some of Viji Venkatesh’s insights on World Cancer Day which falls on February 4, 2021:
“’What cancer has taught me is to love and respect life and find joy in every little thing I do because that’s the biggest thing in life”.
Cancer is seen as a very cruel and unforgiving disease – yet I have seen people rise above labelling it as such and instead embrace it as a means to understanding and appreciating life all the more.
Old age is seen as a curse but every year I age (I will not see year #68 again) I realise what a blessing every year given to me is. A precious gift to enjoy the simple joys of life. The magic of a sunrise, the glow of a sunset, bird song outside my window, the power of music, a favourite book, the company of friends, the sheer joy of a hot meal… all these things denied to so many whose life may be cut short. The truth is, in them I see the desire to live is strongest and in them I see the joy of giving. There is this refrain always in their narrative – Cancer has taught me to live a better life, to be a better person.
To be honest, it is not I who give advice to a patient but the patient who teaches me to love and respect the gift of life. It has always been my role to listen and encourage the patient to speak and sometimes listen to the silences too. What a patient goes through post diagnosis is fear: of the unknown, of the future, a sense of failure and guilt, denial, anger at the injustice of it all and finally acceptance. It is of great importance to allow all these feelings to percolate through the consciousness and what a patient needs most at that time is someone to just be there by his or her side, a hand to hold on to and a non-judgmental ear to speak into. Who knows better than the patient what he or she needs.
The Caregivers : They Absorb So Much of A Cancer Patient’s Pain, Be It Physical, Mental, Emotional. Their Journey Is Not Easy Either.
There can be nothing more traumatic than seeing a loved one try to cope with all that a diagnosis of cancer and its ensuing treatment entails. In most cases there is a significant amount of role reversal that takes place and a lot of learning and unlearning to be done as well. It falls on the caregiver to shoulder many new responsibilities, to be the voice of the patient and the bridge between him/her and the treating physician and between the world at large.
Care for the caregiver is as important as the care lavished upon the patient. While it is easy to say this, it is never easily translated into effective action. In a way it is a partnership they embark upon, the patient and the caregiver; and like with all partnerships it is built on mutual trust and faith and a tacit understanding of who will take the lead when. Acceptance of a new normal is imperative and that acceptance must come with understanding, not just some kind of a fatalistic compromise. Honesty is another key word here as one comes to term with the prognosis and in an ideal world nothing is hidden. But we all know the ideal is never practical so in many ways the burden of carrying this also is the caregivers.
No. No one said this was going to be easy, but eventually one does delve deep down into one’s inner reserves to find the strength to care and cope.
#ChaiforCancer Day, observed on the second Sunday of May, is in its 8th year.
Chai for Cancer – a project very close to my heart is a unique awareness and fundraising campaign dedicated to cancer patients in need of basic amenities.
It is a simple association between cancer and a cup of tea (chai) – which is every person’s drink – it has recall value as well as the power to bring a sense of comfort and solace to the feared condition.
Year after year, since its launch in 2014, I have encouraged and been successful (well, moderately successful) in having friends and then their friends host a Chai for Cancer Adda in their homes and offices, and other community spaces. In these Addas, likeminded people come together and raise a cup of chai towards the wellbeing of a cancer patient.
This last year (2020) saw our supporters come together, defy the pandemic, and hold virtual addas so that patients in these difficult times could still find the support they needed.
Anyone can raise a cup of chai and dedicate it to a cancer patient by donating a minimum of 100 per cup – or whatever they deem to be the value of that chai in terms of how it can help a patient face cancer with hope and in dignity.
“I Am And I Will” Campaign, Serves To Reinforce The Message Of What Can Be Achieved Through Cooperation And Collective Action.
At the Max Foundation, we believe that every patient regardless of where he / she lives must have access to treatment. The people we serve are at the core of our work, and each has a unique experience with cancer. Our goal is to make sure that every person with cancer has the opportunity to reach their full health potential.
We fully support the World Cancer Day Campaign I Am and I Will because it lets everyone embrace the cause and become an integral part of the cancer narrative.
We are a caring species, and we will support our brethren to live in hope and dignity. Show that you care – reach out to those in need and support a cause dear to your heart. No act of kindness goes without creating a ripple that in turn spreads far and wide.
A Message for Our Seniors…
We have so much to share with our collective experiences … let us not ever feel we are too old to give.
For decades Devoted to Pursuing A Noble Cause.
I came across this quote many years ago; and I think this summarises my journey so far:
“I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy. And I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph. And for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye…”