Friends of Max’s Patient Advocate of the Month for December 2021 is Mrs Shaila Bhandari, our City Chapter Leader from Jaipur.
Shaila grew up as the only daughter in her family with three younger siblings and eleven cousin brothers. As a result, she had a very pampered life growing up. Her parents had a very strong and positive influence on her early years.
Despite being in an orthodox Marwadi household, Shaila’s family provided her with all the luxuries in life and opportunities needed for her personal development. She finished her schooling from Mount Carmel Convent School, Ahmedabad and then went on to complete her graduation in Psychology and English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad.
In 1990, she was first diagnosed with CML. Shaila’s physician at the time was Dr S.H. Advani, who recommended some doctors based in UK and USA. She travelled abroad in search for a treatment to her condition and realised that a Bone Marrow Transplant was the only available option. But she was discouraged due to the lack of a good match and the side effects this procedure entails.
Hope was not yet lost as Shaila’s brother, a practicing doctor in Detroit, USA, paved the way for her to enroll herself into the third Glivec trials – before the drug was approved! The trials required her to travel back and forth from USA every three months, which proved to be a challenge for Shaila, but once after the drug was approved and made available in India, Dr Advani recommended her case to The Max Foundation.
And thus, it was in April 2003 that Shaila first met Viji Venkatesh. “Viji is the best person – someone with whom you can relate anything and everything. She is the best support for us. Everyone at the Max office is so affectionate, cooperative, concerned and caring. Their smiling approach inspires you and gives you strength to fight back and keep going. I just admire everything about The Max Foundation team” , shares Shaila about her experience with the Max team in India.
Since 2004, Shaila has attended all Friends of Max’s patient support group meetings in India. She interacts with the patients and is often invited by Viji on-stage to talk about her experiences and approach in life. Today she is one of the pillars of the FOM City Chapter in Jaipur.
Today, Shaila lives with her husband and their helpers in a village 25 kilometres from Jaipur. She shares that her two daughters are married and well-settled in their lives. As a pastime, she enjoys reading books and magazines – especially The Reader’s Digest. My books give me the strength and courage to fight this disease and all the side-effects of the medication.
Shaila also dedicates her energy towards empowerment of young girls in her village. Surprised by the fact that despite living so close to Jaipur, so few had ever seen the city, she decided to start organizing city tours for the girls, taking them to visit different colleges and encouraging them to pursue higher education. She also offers private tuitions to girls in their early years of schooling. “I believe having a strong base is very important for a good education.”
Shaila recalls an incident that had occurred in her early life – “When I was college, Mallika Sarabhai once asked me “What is your goal in life?” I replied that I wanted to be a good housewife, help the people in my community and make the society a better place for my family.” She adds, “My aim was so strong that despite my disease, I had the confidence to realize my dreams.”
When asked if she has a message for all her fellow patient advocates reading this article, she poignantly notes, “If you don’t give up till your last breath, you will win this battle. I don’t believe in sharing about my discomforts with other people. They come with their sympathy and take away your strength.”