Patel and Sushanth Kodela| Photo Courtesy: Fotocorp
Chiragkumar Patel remembers March 19, 2010 like it was yesterday. He was 29 when his consulting doctor sat him down to tell him he had cancer—Stage 3B, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There were lumps in his entire body, they told him. Patel was fortunate though, after several months of intensive chemotherapy, and a disciplined lifestyle, he emerged a winner against the life-threatening illness. Even though it has been four years since it was first diagnosed, the experience of living with it would never completely cease to exist for Patel.
“Initially, I could not understand why my recurring symptoms went undetected. There was a lot of running around and dismissals like ‘you have fever, take some rest’ by doctors. But finally, my consulting doctor asked me to undergo a CT Scan which diagnosed the cancer,” says Patel, a former corporate research analyst.
During his year-long ordeal, Patel met another young cancer survivor Sushanth Kodela, 26, who was suffering from Stage II, Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma. “The idea of bringing awareness about cancer has been going around in my head for quite sometime, but after I met Kodela, I was sure, this is what I wanted to do,” says Patel. He quit his high flying job, and along with Kodela, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences student, floated unCancer India last year.
A major public health concern in India, cancer has become one of the ten leading causes of death in the country. It is estimated that there are about three million new cases of cancer at any particular point of time, with one million new cases every year. According to the WHO Report 2005, estimated cancer deaths in India are projected to increase to seven lakh by 2015.
Talking about the beginning of his journey as a social entrepreneur Patel says, “Both of us were cancer survivors and didn’t have much experience in the health sector when we started. Because of our personal journey and having met the challenges first hand as patients, we had initially thought of working with patients to help them during their treatment. But once we started working in the field, we quickly got a broader perspective of the ecosystem.” The two went about learning the challenges a patient faces during diagnosis or reasons for delay in diagnosis. “We are not dealing with one disease here, but several cancers each with its own characteristics and different triggers. We have realised there are various patient segments, each with different set of problems requiring different interventions. In the process we have guided and supported 16 patients in last one year in our own personal capacity. unCancer India had also supported Indian Cancer Society, Mumbai to hold the nation’s first Cancer NGOs meet—Can India Conclave—that happened in December 2013,” says Patel.
A large sum from their savings forming the capital investment, the two young survivors have set themselves on a challenging journey. Patel says, “In our study we found that there are many social organisations working in the cancer field. The bigger task is to equip the existing organisations to be more efficient and effective and to bring all these organisations together to share best practices and their resources. So our focus is to first, create a survivor network platform, help partner organisations in capacity building and then spread awareness on prevention and early detection.”
Patel is working on operations in two localities of Mumbai. “Considering we plan to work with existing NGOs and hospitals, the locations would depend on the initial partnerships we are able to make. The Parel locality has many cancer NGOs working, so it would surely be one of our starting points,” he says. Supported by his wife Anjana, Patel says, “Since there are many who are already working on the concept, some radical and fresh thinking is required to solve the health related challenges that we see in India today. The conventional way of working won’t help us achieve the scale that’s required to reach out pan India. That’s why we believe in the power of ‘youngistan’, which is full of fresh ideas and energy, and we seek support of youngsters.”