Friends of Max’s Patient Advocate of the Month for January 2022 is our City Chapter Leader from Amritsar, Balbir Singh.
Balbir grew up in a village in Amritsar district, Punjab with his parents and two brothers. His father served in the Indian Army and later worked at the Punjab State Electricity Board. He completed his college education in Amritsar, where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree from DAV College, a B.Ed. from Khalsa College and an MA-MPhil. from Gurunanakdev University. In 1993, he started teaching at a Government School.
In the year 2000, a minor case of vertigo and fever led to Balbir undergoing a series of tests but the doctors were unable to identify the cause. Finally, it was a Bone Marrow Test that led to his diagnosis with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML).
On the advice of a colleague of his, Balbir visited Dr S.H Advani at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, who started his treatment with Interferon drug. After Glivec was approved in India, there were still a number of barriers in the way of procuring the drug and the cost was restrictive. But Balbir’s family put everything at stake to let him continue treatment for a year.
It was in 2003 that Dr Tapan Saikia informed Balbir about The Max Foundation and its work. That same year, his case was approved and he became a part of Max’s Access Programme in India.
Balbir Singh has been one of Friends of Max’s earliest patient advocates in India. He attended the first All-India FOM event in 2005 in Mumbai. Since then, he has not only attended all FOM Meetings in Chandigarh, but also a few in Mumbai and Delhi. He has helped organize these meetings and also shared his message with other patients in attendance. Balbir is also an ardent supporter of Chai for Cancer and rallies his friends and family to contribute towards our cause.
When asked if he has any special memories with Friends of Max that he would like to share, Balbir says, “Friends of Max is like a mother to me. A mother does not just give life to a baby, it also teaches them to live. Similarly, The Max Foundation and Friends of Max have not just given thousands of CML patients a new life by supplying us with this drug, but through their patient support groups and other interventions, they have taught us a new way of life. I don’t think there is any other NGO that involves patients, caregivers and physicians that way FOM does.”
Balbir doesn’t believe in hiding his condition from his colleagues or other people in the society. He says that would rob him of the opportunity to spread awareness about this condition. “People come to me with their queries because everybody knows that I am a cancer survivor. It means a lot to me when I am able to provide them with some kind of guidance and strengthen their willpower.”
Balbir is a great example of how determination can overcome the greatest obstacles in life – even cancer! After his diagnosis, he did not stop pursuing his academic goals. He appeared for the state administrative exam thrice, cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) and even aced a state level exam for direct recruitment to the post of Principal.
When asked if he has a message for his fellow patients and patient leaders reading this article, he says, “A person should have faith in God. The kind of platform and guidance that Max provides is unparalleled. So, it is imperative for every patient to follow their advice with a positive attitude. Max is a torchlight for all CML patients”.