Chalo Chennai

From Vaishnavi Venkatesh – Friends of Max Chennai who gave us the breathtaking artwork which breathed life and colour into our Theme “Towards a New Dawn”

The Friends of Max along with The Max Foundation organized its big yearly countrywide meet over the weekend of the 22nd and the 23rd of May. The first event of the weekend was an awareness walk on the Marina. The heat of the Chennai summer and the length of the Marina was no match for the enthusiasm of the Friends of Max. The walk began from the ‘Gandhi Statue’ at 6.30 in the morning. Many Doctors from the Adyar Cancer Institute (Dr.Sagar, Dr. Rejiv and his wife, Dr.Prasanth) and Apollo (Dr.Ramanan) had joined the walk. We welcomed the morning call to good health. There were cool Max Foundation T-shirts, chilled “nimbooz” bottles to pep us up and snacks for all the people at the end of the walk. Yes not ‘sing for your supper’, but ‘walk for your good and your goodies’.

Many enthusiasts followed this up with a look in at the Adyar Cancer Institute where a Doctor’s meet (Meet the Experts session) had been specially organised for the Friends of Max volunteers. This exclusive one on one interaction gave us an in depth view of the current advances in oncology and care for CML and GIST. The speakers at this symposium were Dr. M B Agarwal, Dr.Raghunadha Rao, Dr. Ramanan and Dr. Rejiv.

The BIG Meet on the next day  (23-May)started with registration of the GIPAP and NOA  recipients and their care givers. They picked up their snazzy bags with the Book of Stories, Frequently asked questions and pill box. The publications included a Tamil version of the stories of patients. The well edited and translated stories and their English versions were well received. They strike the reader as accounts of strength, accounts of how humans have refused to let a disease dictate terms to them. Accounts of how people live joyously in the midst of bodily trauma.

We then signed our names on the map and proceeded to breakfast. Breakfast was a scrumptious treat. Hot idli and Vada with spicy sambar and tangy thokku followed by sweet carrot  halwa. Sated but not somnolescent we proceeded to the welcome area. We were greeted with the mellifluous notes of the nadaswaram, the fragrance of rose water and the interesting sight of the traditional karagattam dance  artistes. Viji akka spiced up their performance with her graceful efforts.

Then everyone settled down to the morning session. We salutes our state and Motherland with the awe-inspiring anthems and there was not a dry eye in the auditorium when the strains of the Nadaswaram sounded the last drawn out jai Hai .

Sriram and Nags our comperes for the day welcomed everyone to be followed by Nirmesh and Pramod the irrepressible Bhais from Bombay who in their inimitable style took all of us through the day’s agenda with some rib tickling introductions to our guests and some tips on compliance and follow up.

We were honoured by many illustrious people who graced the meet by their presence. The first was Dr. Shantha of the Cancer Institute who gave the welcome address. Her age and her dedication seemed to be inversely related and we were inspired by her accounts of her experiences with the fight against cancer in its various forms. We were heartened by her spirit and her message of enduring hope.

This visionary was succeeded by Mr.Ranjit Shahani, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Novartis India. He is our Friend indeed – a Friend of Max who has held our hand at each of our meetings.

He welcomed on stage our special and beloved guest of the day Dr. Dan Vasella, the father of Glivec and GIPAP, who is Chairman of Novartis AG. It was an honor indeed to have him address the gathering

Then Pat, the executive director of the Max Foundation gave her rousing speech exhorting all of us to Maximise our lives .

Viji followed with a special segment on the Friends of Max and after a brief introduction of our activities called all the representatives of each city chapter to come on stage . To the tunes of popular songs and dressed in their regional attire , the volunteers gathered on stage and shared their mission and vision for each chapter – what an amazing show of strength that was !!

There were moving testimonials and a the Vote of Thanks presented after that

Volunteers guided all the attendees to lunch. South Indian sambar rice, and pan Indian paneer butter masala vied with gulab jamuns, ice cream and chips. Everyone relaxed, unwound and chatted. The volunteers in Blue  rushed about making sure that everyone was well fed and happy.

The much awaited afternoon session , the Medical Panel Discussion was conducted in Tamil,, English and Telugu. Doctors who are hard-pressed for time in their practices patiently cleared doubts. Though many commonly asked questions are documented and dispersed to the Friends of Max in the FAQ booklet, this wonderful panel shared their experience and cleared doubts ranging from the possibilities for CML and GIST survivors   in the fields of the civil services, the army, going abroad for further studies. The answers were very helpful, even covering details like the places to pack medication while travelling by air. The efforts of Novartis and the Max Foundation to extend access coverage to Nilotinib and other newer drugs was hope inspiring for many.

Tea succeeded this session, People rushed back to focus on the stage. It was time for the entertainment. The soothing strains of the Veena were succeeded by the very informative and well demonstrated yoga session. Master  Nikhil Venkatesh demonstrated the yogasanas while the teacher gave information about the time and method of yoga practice. We then clapped along in teen taal while we were guided through many film songs by Venky, our own DJ. Enthusiastic Max volunteers then waltzed along to the music , a free for all song and dance session ensued.  We are just surrounded by talent, we are so lucky that events like this let us see it all around us. An orgy of photo taking ensued and then everyone reluctantly disbanded after vowing to stay in touch and keep the flame glowing.
Let the joy keep increasing and may we always help each other be the best we can.