1st FOM Meeting @Visakhapatnam

The Friends of Max meeting held on 12th March 2016 at Visakhapatnam ( a.k.a Vizag) was almost a dream coming true for me. It all started with a call from Beena asking for confirmation of dates. We finally decided on March 12th since it suited most of us who would be finally responsible for making this event a reality.
The Hyderabad core group members took on the responsibility of calling and convincing patients in the five districts of Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam and Anakapalli, East Godavari and West Godavari to attend the meeting. With the support of Dr Raghunadharao, we in Vizag took it upon ourselves to finalise the venue and menu 🙂
12th March dawned bright and beautiful. By 7.30 am, Beena and Vijaya were at the venue along with a few local volunteers like Murthy garu and the effervescent Padmavati garu. Banners were put in place, registration desks set up with badges, jute bags with printed material and the meeting hall was checked out for seating, laptop connections were checked out and mikes were tested. The rest of the FOM volunteers Pramod, Dr Raghu, Dr Niranjani, Krishna, Vicky, Sailaja, Adisri, Usha garu, Parveen, soon took their places to handle the registration process.
Soon the trickle of participants turned into a huge group anxious to get registered and be part of the proceedings. As soon as participants were registered, they were offered tea and snacks. Prof Dr Raghunadharao, Medical Director of the Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital and Research Centre ( a unit of the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai) had arranged for PCR testing to be done free of cost for all patients who gave their blood samples at the venue. We are grateful to Dr Sailaja of the Institute who diligently collected the samples and stored them for analysis very carefully and methodically.
The meeting started with a welcome speech by Beena, who did a good job of speaking in Telugu and thereby making an instant connect with the audience. She spoke on Max and was helped by Dr Raghunadharao . Up next were Dr Raghu and Usha garu who spoke at length and explained how the Hyderabad volunteer group came into being and how the FOM have now become a large family of patients , care givers and volunteers across the country.
Beena then invited Dr Raghunadharao and Dr Madan Mohan, consultant Hematologist to deal with the FAQ’s and individual patient questions. It is probably the first time both of them had to convert a FAQ session into a quick consultation too as many patients attached their latest reports to the slip on which they wrote out their question. Both doctors very quickly and effortlessly dealt with the dual role. Vijaya proposed the Vote of Thanks and requested Sailaja to interpret her.
When the last doubt had been cleared and the last report analysed, lunch was announced. The Daspalla hotel made excellent arrangements for lunch with two counters so that participants didn’t have to wait too long for their lunch. Patients and care givers also got a chance to talk with others in the room and feel assured that they were not the only ones with fair skin or watery eyes in sunlight or ones to feel fatigued.
Post lunch, Amma took centre stage (with perfect translation into Telugu by Dr Raghunadharao) and explained the theory behind drama therapy. The audience was divided into four groups based on the colour of their name tags. The four situations on which each of the groups had to conceptualise and enact a drama with a 30 minute preparation time were :
1. A FOM meet involving patients, volunteers and doctors.
2. A waiting room at an oncologists office
3. A birthday party where a wife is concerned about her husband’s health
4. An office scene where a newly diagnosed patients talks it over with his boss.

The flurry of activity with groups being formed and ideas taking the shape of a drama was fascinating to say the least. Amma was on the prowl with her camera recording different aspects and cheering the teams.

All four teams did an awesome job of presenting drama’s that were each eight minutes long. All of them brought out the salient features of patient-doctor relationships, importance of family/ friends/ patient support groups, some frequently asked questions and of course, compliance. The drama therapy session helped strengthen the bonds of friendship with the group activity and also made people shed their inhibitions about public exposure. It also brought out the latent acting talent of many patients and care givers who would have been mistaken for shy, inhibited people. The biggest surprise came from Smt S.Raju, an illiterate, senior citizen from an interior area. Though she was not given any dialogue to rehearse, she was a show stealer with her impromptu dialogue and acting skills. Amma declared her the “best Actress” and awarded her with a saree.
The day ended with a vote of thanks, group photos, hugs and a lot of confidence for all the patents and care givers for whom this FOM patient support meet was a first time experience.

Report by Sandhya Godey- FOM Visakhapatnam