IACAN Gala Celebrates Life and Offers Hope to Patients and Survivors

Keynote speaker Gabe Canales of Blue Care with IACAN President Kanchan Kabad.                       Photos: Bijay Dixit

Keynote speaker Gabe Canales of Blue Care with IACAN President Kanchan Kabad. Photos: Bijay Dixit

By Jawahar Malhotra
HOUSTON: With cancer survivors lined up behind her, Kumud Nilekani stood onstage and sang a touching song celebrating Life, the theme of the Gala that the Indo American Cancer Awareness Network held this past Saturday, April 19 at the Westchase Marriott Hotel. But, just as much as the Gala was a celebration, what the IACN offers to so many Indo Americans is hope and companionship – essentially the vision of the organization – which came through in the speech that President Kanchan Kabad (who happens to be Nilekani’s daughter) delivered later in the evening.

Chief guest, Dr. Hardeep Singh

Chief guest, Dr. Hardeep Singh

“We have received so many calls from people asking how they can get a second opinion and who they should call”, said Kabad as she explained the work that IACAN does. “So far we have answered 37 of such calls and provided guidance and support and connected them to the proper resource”, she added. She explained the vision of IACAN was that ‘no Indian American will undertake the cancer journey alone’ and the mission was to be a resource network providing education and support.

Kabad outlined the history of the non-profit since it started five years and the successful programs it has held, especially in the past two years which has seen a surge in the attendance by the local community to events like the use of alternative coping therapies like Tai Chi, acupuncture and laughter to mitigate the discomfort and pain of the disease and the powerful medicines used to fight it.

Padmini Chari performing special dance entitled ‘The Dancing Feat’

Padmini Chari performing special dance entitled ‘The Dancing Feat’

She also mentioned the Bone Marrow Registry that has been ongoing for over a decade within the Indo American community. Gayathri Rao, a bone marrow donor, spoke about her experience on behalf of five other donors – Abhilash Katta, Riddhi Patel, Harsh Kapoor and A Jayakumar. – adding that it was very satisfying to know that her donation could save someone else’s life.

Kabad also reported on the preliminary results of the SAHNA project – the South Asian Health Needs Assessment – that will provide a better understanding of the needs of South Asians. It is a project done in collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center with a goal to collect self-reported health data from at least 1500 Asian Indians living in Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Galveston counties using a survey of 100 questions that had been tailored to the local Asian Indian community and provided in English and Hindi. IACAN has attended many community functions and its volunteers have been encouraging people to take the survey and only a few more people are needed to meet the target.

According to the preliminary results of 400 responses, the average age of the responders was 43, with 88 per cent feeling they were in good or better health; 88 per cent were insured; 88 per cent had family members who had experienced cancer and 20 per cent did not know where to go to get information on cancer.

The chief guest, Dr. Hardeep Singh, Chief of Health Policy, Quality & Informatics at the Houston Veterans Affairs Center and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine said that there was a high chance of a physician misdiagnosing missing signs of the cancer and urged people to ask questions from their doctors.

The keynote speaker Gabe Canales is a prostate cancer survivor himself and he described how he had found out about his cancer by sheer accident when he was in his mid-thirties. He founded Blue Care, a non-profit group of which is the President which educates men, young and old, about prostate cancer and chronic disease prevention. He urged everyone to minimize the chemicals they have in their food, water and air. He said that almost 70 percent of cancers are preventable; nine of ten cancers are environmentally triggered and only one of ten is from your genetic makeup. Canales is well respected for his work at Blue Care and is a frequent The Huffington Post, the Houston Chronicle, is a speaker, writer and patient-advocate.

The event featured a special dance entitled ‘The Dancing Feat’ performed by students of the teacher Padmini Chari, which told the story of Asha who is diagnosed with cancer and is filled with pain, fear and anger till one day she is comforted by a loving hand and a voice expressing love and companionship.

The Gala was emceed by Dr. Snehal Desai and Dr. Latha Ramchand, Dean of the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. A special pledge drive featured the purchase of balloons of seven different colors for increasing denominations, which, when popped held gift certificates for prizes from area merchants and other vendors. An estimated $85,000 was raised at the Gala for the IACAN’s activities. Dinner for the event was catered by Bombay Brasserie.