Cancer requires comprehensive care, and more so if you are a child. There are many precautions to be taken before, during, and after treatment. A child attending regular chemotherapy sessions has a compromised immunity. In such a situation, staying outdoors and using public transport is inviting danger.
Children belonging to economically backward families, and living in rural areas, often visit cities to seek treatment. However, the situation becomes a nightmare for them as they cannot afford accommodation and end up setting up temporary shelters outside the hospitals they consult.
Outside the Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel, Mumbai, there is often a crowd of patients. They seem weary and tired, camping out on the pavements. Nihal Kaviratne and his wife Shyama Kaviratne were troubled when they repeatedly came across this sight and decided to start the St Jude India ChildCare Centres, to help out these vulnerable children and their families.
The vision of St Jude India ChildCare Centres is clear—to help every child suffering from cancer, get the best chance of surviving the disease to live a full, healthy and happy life. It does this by providing free, holistic care, to children, irrespective of their economic status.
St Jude has multiple centres, in major cities in India. Providing the needy families and their children a place to stay, to begin with, the centre then goes on to provide support, in the following ways:
The children and their parents are given accommodation, with a place for their belongings, and access to a common kitchen—so that they can settle in comfortably. This is an important first step, as it takes these children and their families off the streets outside the hospitals.
2) Nutritional support:
When you are sick, home cooked food tastes the best, and this centre practices that belief! The families are given all the raw materials required, to cook wholesome, healthy food. Since there are people from all over India, at these centres, it helps to leave the cooking to them, so they have complete freedom over their dietary choices.
Not all St Jude India ChildCare Centres, are adjacent to the hospitals where the children receive treatment. In such cases, St Jude provides transport facilities, so children can go when they are called.
Cities are often intimidating, and many people do not necessarily have a friendly experience to recount. Counselling helps the children and parents cope with the confusion, fear and apprehensions that they might have. Putting their fears to rest, helps keep them in a positive and relaxed state of mind.
5) Education and Recreational Activities:
Since these children have left their home for the purpose of treatment, their education gets interrupted, and they miss out on school. Recognising this, St Jude India ChildCare Centres has an education team in place, which helps the children get up to speed. Children are also encouraged to pick up new skills.
6) Art and music-based therapy and Yoga:
Music therapy has been proven to improve the quality of life for cancer patients. It helps the children deal with several issues, like pain, anxiety, and fatigue. Yoga and exercise helps the children and the parents get rid of stress.
For the children and their families, this is a complete turnaround. The centre provides them with immense relief, as they don’t have to squat on the pavement, at the mercy of the elements, and get exposed to further infection. It also helps the, get over their initial apprehension of an urban environment.
Take the case of Ayan Khan, a quiet 14-year old who mostly kept to himself, after he came over to Mumbai, from Balrampur, UP.
The teenager, who was being treated for leukaemia, was reticent, despite efforts by the staff to draw him into the many activities happening. Ayan kept refusing, till one day, a boy from Gorakhpur, aged 12, came and changed everything. Aditya Rathaur came to be treated for a malignant brain tumour. A slightly outgoing and gregarious character, he was able to draw Ayan out of his shell.
Seeing its success, the Government of Telangana and Tata Trusts recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding, to deliver high-quality, affordable cancer care.
Tata Memorial Centre, has a close relationship with St Jude India ChildCare Centres, as the centre takes care of children who are taking treatment at the Tata hospitals. Hence, as per an agreement, St Jude will set up operations in Guwahati.
Looking to the future, the initiative aims to set up more centres in Mumbai itself, to handle the influx of children coming for treatment. There are many little hands that need help, and St Jude wishes to make sure the children are not left wanting for anything while undergoing cancer treatment.
Childhood is a time to run, enjoy and soak up myriad experiences, but children battling cancer, undergo an extremely harrowing time and the lack of support only adds to the anxiety.
Now, thanks to St Jude India ChildCare Centres, and the comprehensive and holistic help provided, these children have a place to stay, make friends, and beat the cancer battle!