NRI Woman with a mission : working for early cancer detection in India

We all talk about doing something to change people’s lives, but it usually remains just talk. Few of us have the resources, will and determination to carry it through. Among these few determined, amazing women, I count my friend, Poornima. This is a story of how she achieved it.

I have known Poornima for many years. Her husband and my husband were classmates in Bangalore Medical College. She has always been a charming, friendly woman and I was immediately drawn to talk and converse with her when we first met. It was always about our children and life in general . But this year I saw a side of Poornima that means a lot to me.
A seed of an idea germinated in Poornima’ s brain and grew into a wonderful, amazing project.
Her husband, Dr. Sudhindra has been an oncologist in a place called Vineland, New Jersey , for almost forty years. Every time he would come to Bangalore, India, he would take care of patients there. One year, a woman came with an advanced case of breast cancer and Dr. Sudhindra could not help her; unfortunately she died. This affected Poornima so deeply she decided to do something about it. Even today, she gets teary-eyed talking about it.

One must remember that women in India do not wish to talk about cancer, especially breast cancer, because culturally they feel shy and diffident to discuss this sensitive subject with family, leave alone outsiders. India has one of the highest cases of cancer. In 2012 alone there were over 70,000 cases of cancer reported ( China is a distant second with about 42,000 cases) and 25-31% are breast cancers. 76% of cancer is being treated at the advanced stages where the chances of a full recovery are slim to none.
Poornima talked to her husband about investing in a customized bus with a mammogram machine that would screen women for cancer. She realized that prevention as well as early detection are extremely important. Her objective was to reach as many women in rural and urban Karnataka,(a state in southern India). Her husband liked the idea, but she did most of the legwork.
First, she approached politicians and philanthropists to determine if they would have any interest in funding this project. Everyone thought it was a great idea, however, they did not want to part with their money.  The Rotary Club liked the idea very much and decided to donate the mammography machine. Poornima and her husband funded more than 90% of the project. Poornima worked with Siemens, auto body builders and others to launch Karnataka’s first mobile mammography bus on September 18, 2013.

Though the state government did not  invest any money in this idea, they fully supported it, and it would incidentally reflect well for the state. She also spent time finding a skeleton staff: someone reliable to drive the bus,to schedule the screenings and educate the women in the villages of the process prior to the arrival of the bus. Even the colors and beautiful designs on the bus were personally decided by Poornima. The name of the organization created is painted on the back and sides of the bus: Poornasudha  Cancer Foundation.The bus is called the MOM express.(Mobile On-site Mammography) Here are some pictures of the bus and inside it where the cancer screener is visible. (The lady in blue is Poornima along with her husband, the oncologist, Dr Sudindra.)

It is extremely important to initially have camps to educate the women and give them the opportunity to come forward to be ready to talk and learn about breast self-exams, and then taking the bus  allows them to get  screened. Poornima sensed this early enough and planned the sequence of events, awareness camps followed by actual screening. (The women were given laminated Self Breast exam handouts in several languages.)She also educated herself by visiting the American Cancer Society and learning about the various levels of screening ,detection and stages of cancer.poorn1poorn2_0165

Four years ago this foundation was a thought in her head, today the bus goes through Karnataka and other neighboring states in India and has done over three thousand screenings. Every year the couple leaves USA and comes to India twice to oversee the project. The local paper where they live in New Jersey* has carried a feature about their work and so has the Times of India edition in South India.**

By 2015 the number of screenings have increased dramatically. They have now reached five thousand screenings! Here are some more recent pictures of the MOM express camps in Karnataka, India. The Poornasudha Foundation is a tax-deductible  501(c) 3 organization. Checks may be made out to :Poorna Sudha Cancer Foundation and mailed to:

Poorna Sudha Cancer Foundation
2821 Autumncrest Drive
Vineland, NJ 08361
email : nimasudhindra@gmail.com

I am humbled  and awed to see their continued dedication.

*http://www.courierpostonline.com/story/life/2015/01/04/couple-give-gift-support-women-cancer/21253881/

**Times of India Article – Oct 13, 2014

Mom Express Camp pic 1 Aug 2, 2015mom express pic copyDSC05550

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