Maximizing Life in Madras

  Chennai, formerly known as Madras is the capital city of one of the five states in Southern India – Tamil Nadu. Ruled by one of the strongest Opposition Parties at this time in India it is led by Jayalalitha their charismatic Chief Minister. The lady was once the darling of the Tamil Film industry, one of the most talented and popular film heroines, no less than any Bollywood star. Her mentor, known as MGR and the founder of the Party was himself one of the state’s legendary political leaders and an actor and her favourite co-star too. They made a very powerful pair both off screen and in real life too till MGR died and she took over the mantle of the party’s leader from him.  A very articulate and polished woman, well read and an excellent orator and conversationalist (speaks impeccable and un accented English) she came back to power in recent years. She is revered by the common man and is called Amma by one and all
The last two times we planned FOM meetings in Chennai, various forces, natural and manmade, saw to it that they were cancelled at the last minute. One was when this very Chief Minister , Amma Jayalalitha who was not in power at that time, was arrested on alleged charges of election malpractices. Overnight, violent protests broke out and the state and the city of Chennai , both shut down and we all (FOM Volunteers and I) were rendered powerless to even move out of our homes and guest house.
I remember one of our volunteers braving the curfew to come on his motorcycle and take me on a cautious and hurried ride to a street side stall for some food and water. This was two years ago. The meeting of course was called off.
Then last year in December we planned to have the meeting on a larger scale to make up for the missed meeting. And this time even though Jayalalitha was back in power, even she could not stop Mother Nature from wreaking havoc in her state and city . On Dec 2nd Chennai completely drowned in the incessant and unprecedented rain. I was stranded there for six days and finally took a midnight bus to Bangalore and a flight from there to return home.  On the day of the meeting, we made a brave attempt to go to the venue, the core group and I. One patient turned up and the handful of us sat huddled in the rain outside the venue for a couple of hours and then packed up. Nobody was going to make it. The roads were rivers and nothing with wheels moved . 
This time therefore we wanted no disruptions and were cautious as we were planned the MLC event in Chennai at the earnest request of the FOM core group who had been disappointed not once but twice.
Then just a few days before the day of the scheduled event we heard news of the Chief Minister being taken severely ill and admitted in ICU and the whole state praying for the good health of their Amma. So of course we all prayed as much for her good health as for the chances of our meeting not having to be axed once again . However,  Oct 22nd the day of the MLC meeting dawned with the news that the CM was on the road to recovery . 
Patients and caregivers came from all over the state of Tamil Nadu and the day long meeting followed the usual pattern of the Medical Session in the first half and an interactive workshop in the second .

Pinning the name tag and slipping on the wrist band becomes an intimate gesture of welcome and inclusion .

The Registration Desk Team 

The Core Group with the Physicians 

Meeting young Karthik Selvam after six years !! He was the little boy who welcomed  Dan Vasella with a gift  to the Chennai All India Meet

A happy Core Group

 Keeping in mind the theme of the MLC this year  , Telling your Story : it’s Therapeutic Value , the afternoon session was devoted to Testimonial Sharing .  From a young teenager who was diagnosed when he was only eight years old the same number of years ago, to a young adult who since his diagnosis in his early 20s , had married and fathered a child , to a young mother who discovered her independence and new talents and meaning to her life  post her diagnosis , to the devoted wife of an elderly gentleman whose children found out how “bold” and “brave” their mother was only after their father’s cancer made an appearance …

Listening to these stories and seeing how their tellers had maximized their lives,  newly diagnosed patients and those who had held back all these years stood up to share their stories . It was truly what Maximizing Life was all about . 

Chai for Cancer Adda : 
Since I was in the city on work , my sister and her husband offered to host a Chai for Cancer Adda at her home in Chennai . Raji and Muthu , as we call them have lived in this gracious home for almost 5 decades now and have an amazing network of family , neighbours and friends . To this is added a large number of virtual friends as Raji uses Social Media to keep in touch with many people with varied interests .
To be honest and as I expected , this Adda was a perfect one . Ably supported by the FOM Chennai city chapter group , plans were made well in advance as to what would be on offer . All I had to do was to bring the CFC Kit Box from Bombay. 
Facebook was used effectively and the invite posted a few weeks ahead and reminders sent as the date drew close as well as interesting photos and Chai News on the event page . Raji made it known that I would be there representing Max and also the FOM patient advocates . 
People literally came in droves . And stayed . And listened and asked questions and shared their cancer stories and gave with their hearts . From my 92 year old aunt to our own Jyotiy’s young son in his twenties ; from so many of our FOM patients to our oncologist Dr Ramanan , my Saree Pact friends and my sister’s Facebook friends she hadn’t even met before …they all came , ate and had cups of chai and donated . The house was ringing with happy chatter and good will .
It was the King of all Addas . A testimonial to the love and respect Muthu and Raji command …in the family , amongst friends and in the community ; both virtual and otherwise .

With my brother in law who was a proud host and FOM Trustee Sriram

Raji and her husband

Saroja , in the purple saree has worked in my sister’s house as a devoted and trusted help for 48 years …she stayed till the very end and helped us serve cup after cup of tea to over 80 guests

FOM Volunteer hard at work – trying to open the cookie box !!!

My Aunt , my mother’s older sister who blessed the Adda

And here is Jyotiy’s son Raghav

One of the awareness sessions – the guests had many questions to ask

Our Rockstar Dr Ramanan and his wife . When the leading oncologist of the city turns up it means the Adda has scored

Sasi, Nag , Saravanan – i had to drag them to pose for this picture 

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