SPECIAL REPORT: Raising national awareness over childhood cancer..By Anjali Madan
The joy reflecting on Iqbal’s face belied the braveheart’s ongoing fight with blood cancer.
As the seven-year-old played with a balloon, Rajasthan Health Minister Rajendra Rathore inquired from his parents about his treatment here.
“Uncle gave me the balloon,” said Iqbal, pointing towards the minister, who interacted recently with children like him at a public forum to spread awareness against childhood cancer.
Giving Iqbal company are Rakesh, 6, and Ankit, 4, who too are also undergoing treatment for blood cancer.
“We were also given school bags,” said Rakesh.
The three children, along with many others, came together at the public forum organised by an NGO to mark the joining of hands with the state government to spread awareness on childhood cancer.
Iqbal’s father, Sikandar, a resident of Pali district, said he and many others like him who have been getting their children treated for cancer in Jaipur are enthused by the event.
“We all have now come together as a community. Earlier, we were working in isolation,” he said, pointing to the help by NGO Cankids Kidscan.
The public forum was held in mid-September to mark the arrival of the “CanKids 4th Car Rally – Change for Childhood Cancer in Rajasthan” in Jaipur as part of an initiative to spread awareness and join hands with the state government to open a cancer awareness unit for patients and their family members at Sawai Man Singh Hospital here.
The rallyists mostly consisted of drivers who either overcame cancer or those who have joined hands with Cankids Kidscan – a national society to raise awareness and funds for fighting cancer among kids.
“The 1,700-km rally also touched cities like Ajmer and Udaipur and villages around them,” said Hodgkins survivor and Cankids advocacy officer Kapil Chawla.
Cankids volunteer and National Girl Childhood Cancer Ambassador Ritu Bhalla, 24, a two-time child cancer survivor herself, also took part in the Rally and shared her experience of overcoming the disease.
“Some people were struck by disbelief when I told them that I have overcome cancer twice and am working normally now,” Bhalla said on returning to Delhi after the four-day rally with 30 participants.
Before reaching Jaipur, volunteers of the NGO, along with the rallyists, stopped over at Mayo College Girls’ School in Ajmer for an awareness event.
Ashwin Khandke, a corporate honcho and rally participant who lost his wife to cancer a few weeks before the event, addressed the school students, including his own daughter Sunetra, about how courage and hope were the key to fighting the disease.
“Do not let fear overcome you,” said Khandke at the school’s auditorium where the students, from both Mayo Girls and Mayo Boys, were moved to give a standing ovation to the Khandke family, and others in the rally, who are symbols of bravery and courage as they have fought the dreaded disease.
In Udiapur, the rally served as a platform for Cankids to arrive at an in-principle decision with the Rotary Club to create a cancer fund for the girl child. The announcement was made at an awareness camp at GBH American Hospital in the city.
Rotary Club President Rahul Bhatnagar said: “We want to serve the community, especially the brave hearts suffering from cancer, and would go the extra mile for spreading awareness.”
Cankids Kidscan chairman Poonam Bagai said that in keeping with an international initiative to highlight childhood cancer with the gold colour, CanKids organised the rally and observed September as a “Go Gold” month.
“The Gold Ribbon is the international symbol for childhood cancer. Beginning March, we have been going gold in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Rajasthan to ensure that childhood cancer becomes a child health priority in India,” she said.
“We are inviting all creative people to contribute a work of art – a photo, painting, sculpture or a weave – around the theme of ‘Go Gold – our children are precious and priceless’. We would display it at our Go Gold theme party and auction in Delhi on December 12 – to support the holistic care of children with cancer and their families,” Bagai said.
In India, more than 30,000 children are diagnosed with childhood cancer every year. Cancer kills as many as 260 children per week on an average in the country. As many as 13,726 deaths due to childhood cancer occurred in India in 2010, out of which 0.7 percent were aged one month to 14 years.
Cankids Kidscan is a national society which works for children with cancer through 41 centres across the country. It helps bridge the gap between needy cancer patients and paediatric cancer units and extends financial support.