On 26 & 27 April, I had the great pleasure of attending both a Maximo reading and an FOM meet in Madurai, India. I should take this opportunity to say that although these events were conducted in the local language, Tamil, I experienced these events through a shared feeling of humanity, an inter-connectedness, that I believe moves beyond words.
Maximo Book Reading
On 26 April, Viji, Beena, members of FOM Chennai, and I gathered at Meenakshi Mission Hospital in Madurai (the guys from Chennai made their way by overnight train to be there). Our host, Dr. Krishna Kumar, gave us a tour of both pediatric oncology wings. With great enthusiasm, Viji walked to each child’s room to introduce herself to the mother and personally invite them to attend the reading. Some children were eager for a break in their usual routine while others appeared hesitant, shy, or nervous. Still, every child who could attend did so.
Now, as a mother, I have such a different view of these little warriors. Much as Vijaya described in an earlier post, it is difficult to see these little hands, with their soft skin, bear the burden of IV and tape and carrying the worry of their mothers. My heart went out to the families… but now was not a moment of sadness! We were about to embark on an adventure, so I readied myself for the fun we would have together.
The guys of FOM Chennai also prepared for the story by acting out the different characters of Maximo – Viji the narrator, Venky, the mom & Vishva, the dad. Last but not least, Sasi as Maximo! Two children were called up to play the siblings, and so the story began.
Similar to another reading by Viji, at another place/ another time, there was one little girl who resisted. Though she resisted, she came to the reading. By the end, she had opened the book, and she had connected with the story. My heart soared for her. Each of the kids stood up and shared what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was the perfect ending – a tale of strength and courage. How happy I was that the kids ended the session talking about their future – though unknown, still full of hope.
Friends of Max (FOM) Meet
The day began early. As soon as we were readied, Viji, Beena, and I made our way to the facilities where the meet would take place. Madurai was one of several cities – called second tier cities – where FOM was branching out. Today’s meeting would be the first in Madurai, and though it was early morning, the heat was closing in fast.
Banners were unfurled, tables were set, materials were spread, and every one had an air of nervous excitement. I was tasked with taking pictures and snapped as many as I could to try and feel useful. Needless to say, the batteries ran out before the end of the program. Viji had to monitor my photo-taking activities not long after the program started.
At first, I had to keep reminding myself that the flurry and hustle was real… we knew that many patients would arrive early as they would travel long distances to be there. I simply had not anticipated HOW early. The line began to form even as the materials were being laid out, but we were ready for them.
People from all walks of life passed through the registration desk. Some were young, some were old. There were single men, couples, families with children. One man who, upon seeing the gathering, called his wife and daughter to join him. Everyone was happily meeting Beena for the first time as well, after knowing her by name all these years.
The program flowed from opening ceremony, introduction of FOM, presentation on the value of peer support to the all-important session of the day – Physician Q&A. The greatest bulk of time was spent by physicians – patiently and thoroughly answering questions. Most of these questions had to do with side effects – changes in skin pigmentation, GI upset and diet, and included one set of parents with their 16 year old son concerned about lack of growth. Their son, who had started on generics when he was 12, seemed to stop growing. The physician kindly told them that there were still growing years left. The reply lifted a heavy burden off their shoulders, and the son was seen smiling with other patients after that.
After a delicious lunch, we reconvened for the session I had long been waiting for… Drama therapy. Viji provided a brief presentation on the importance of drama therapy. We split into four groups, and the group leaders helped organize the skit our actors would present to the eager audience. Every member of the troupe did a wonderful job, with at least one actor who really knew how to “ham it up” and had the audience laughing breathlessly.
Despite the barriers of language, I’m proud to say that I helped recruit my group’s star player! I spent this time “chatting” with aunties as well, who I grew very fond of.
After a day of hard work, Viji, Beena, FOM Chennai, and I went to visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple to honor the success of the day. The evening ended with all of us sitting by a pool, looking at the stars, and breathing in the song sung by our FOM star, Venky. You can listen here: Temple Song.
The colored name tags indicated what group we would be in during drama therapy
Yellow group (my group) on stage