Suraj Kute from Parbhani, a small village in Maharashtra, came to Mumbai for the first time in January 2011. He was 13 and had come here for treatment of B-cell cancer.
During his over nine-month-long stay in Mumbai, his family initially had to make the footpath outside Tata Hospital (where he was being treated) their temporary home. Had it not been for the timely assistance by St. Jude India ChildCare Centre, that offers a home to underprivileged families during their children’s treatment for cancer, they would have had to stall Suraj’s treatment midway.
While cancer treatment does not always require prolonged hospital stays, it is vital that the patient is located somewhere close by during the treatment, which usually lasts six-eight months. “The cancers in children need sustained, intensive and prolonged treatment. The cancers we generally see are blood cancers and solid tumours that need intensive treatment, which makes their immunity very low.
“This demands urgent attention, admission and antibiotics which is sometimes not possible on account of distances and overcrowding in the cancer hospitals and lack of beds for admission,” said Prof Shripad Banavali, Head, Department of Medical & Paediatric Oncology at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Centre.
“Moreover, the Out Patient Department (OPDs) and casualties are always crowded and thus many children needing urgent care may often get missed and don’t get antibiotics within one hour as mandated. This leads to children not receiving treatment on time and thus possibly succumbing to the disease,” he added.
This is exactly where St Judes comes in the picture and acts as the much-needed facilitator in a patient’s recovery. It is a not-for-profit organisation that started in Mumbai in 2006. It works alongside Tata Memorial Hospital, AIIMS, New Delhi, Tata Medical Centre, Kolkata, and cancer hospitals in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Mumbai, Vellore and Kolkata. Notably, St. Judes now has 35 centres with 435 family units in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Vellore, Guwahati and Delhi.
It offers children suffering from cancer and their parents a hygienic and free place to stay while they receive treatment at hospitals in large and often expensive cities. The centres also organise educational, recreational activities, psycho-social support and skill development events for parents.
Recalling his time at St Judes, Suraj says, “Yes, of course, I still remember those people. In fact, we are in touch with three-four families from the time.”
The families can stay at any St Jude centre for as long as the treatment goes on and every time they return for follow-up. Suraj too continued coming to St Judes for follow-up treatments until 2013, when he finally conquered cancer. A B.Com graduate working at a Hyundai showroom in his hometown, he now comes to Mumbai once a year for regular check-ups.