By Sadhana Holla & Divija Khater
“The biggest disease we need to cure today is indifference.” – Pankaj Singh
This is the policy that led to the establishment of an agency that deals with the prevention and awareness of cancer. This indifference of the public is what drove Pankaj, a 25-year-old, to do incredible things. He has accomplished so much in a short span and is truly an inspiration to the youth all over. He ran away from home, Mumbai, after college to start his first project – Slydes – in Bengaluru. Slydes is a graphic design company that Singh started with his own money, and it immediately became a huge success. Along with this, he created other start-ups in a variety of fields far from that of business. About a year ago, he was part of a company that promoted literary works called ‘Write to Change’.
Soon after setting up these companies, Pankaj decided to shift to Hyderabad to work on the prevention and awareness of the disease: cancer. His firsthand experiences with the disease influenced this change. What he saw of the sufferings of those with cancer completely changed his views on the disease and the treatment of cancer patients. Once settled in Hyderabad, he started working towards the betterment of cancer patients, through cancer prevention and awareness. He believes that in dealing with cancer, or any other such experience, a lot of emotional and mental quotient is involved that results in a deep involvement of all those who are around the affected. And when something, as hard as cancer hits you, you begin to look for answers that may make the process easier for you or anybody else who may face the same. The treatment for cancer has been laid out, and there is neither diversion of that set process nor experimentation through clinical trials in India. Ultimately, this lack of change proves to be an inadequate solution to the ever growing, scary, and life-altering disease.
Singh accepts that he cannot cure cancer altogether, but can help by working towards a more efficient cancer treatment and prevention system. One of his clients sowed the seeds for Singh’s idea involving a cancer system that is more receptive to the situation of the patient. This client helped Singh gain knowledge of the existence of ayurvedic treatments in the US. As such, they realized that fighting cancer has less to do with actually curing the disease, and more to do with preventing it in the first place. In short, they learned that ‘prevention is better than a cure’. This idea pushed Singh towards forming an organization that dealt with cancer prevention and awareness. Pankaj organized a Cancer Prevention Conference, ‘Aarogya’, which took place on May 13th, 2018. Several prominent doctors and interested politicians, along with media, were present. The government also permitted the conduct of a 5k run to raise awareness amongst the public. The Conference served as a platform to raise funds that were given to the patients and their families to support their fight against cancer. Aarogya had raised about 600,000 rupees (about 9,000 USD) through sale of tickets and sponsorships before the conference.
Not only does Singh dedicate himself to cancer awareness and prevention, but he also partakes in distribution of healthy food packets to help meet the needs of those who have limited access to nourishing food. These people often include patients waiting at cancer hospitals and their families. About 100 families are given these food packets at every drive. Furthermore, these drives provide patients and relatives the opportunity to discuss the difficulties that they face in terms of accessibility and finance. Along with suggestions, patients are given the address to the Cancer Centre, where they can undergo ayurvedic treatment to fight the cancer. At this centre, one can find a yoga station, café, ayurvedic wellness rooms, and much more. All of which was designed by Singh. In some very rare cases, the patients’ treatment costs are borne entirely by the organization itself. Expenses incurred during the food distribution drives are paid out of the pockets of Singh and his partners.
External help comes only in the form of the owner of the mess, the person who transports the food from the mess to the location and the local who helps in the distribution of the food packets. Apart from Singh, there are 6 other selfless souls working at Aarogya, who donate their time, patience, sweat and money for the benefit of others.
It hasn’t always been an easy task. Identifying the most appropriate vendor for the food serving good food at affordable prices, acquiring the necessary permissions, crowd handling all posed as a herculean problem. Although with time and plenty of experience, these food drives are now conducted with great ease and success on the 13th of every month.
Another important aspect that Singh highlights is the need of a support system. Not only is it a financial strain, but it is also a burden on the family in terms of adjustments of lifestyles. Cancer takes a toll on the emotions, physical health, and relations of the family. It scares people immensely, and beginning treatment is like waging a war against your own body. And an expensive one at that. It cannot be afforded by all, and so plenty of organizations have been set up in the country that aid families financially by raising funds from 3rd parties, and emotionally through counselling and therapy. The funds are then diverted towards treatment.
In the long term, Singh hopes that as the roots of Aarogya are going deeper, the foundation of the organization will become stronger. He also hopes that it also begins to branch out in its functions and reach. Eventually, he wishes that Aarogya deals with awareness and prevention of a number of other health issues that are affecting the lives of many, such as diabetes. Conferences regarding these health issues will be held throughout the year for the benefit of the people. He hopes that in the years to come, Aarogya also opens more centers across the country and that the tie up with other organizations and hospitals. He intends to tie up with allopathy hospitals as well as those health institutes that provide an integrated treatment for cancer. His vision and mission for the health of the people of India proves to be a movement that the population in its entirety shall strive to take forward and be a part of.