An update from our programs team and partners on the impact of the pandemic on our work – the work you so generously support.

COVID didn't stop this boy!

Purnota D Bahl, Founder & CEO Cuddles Foundation

May 29th, 2020

Dear Reader,

As the lockdown ends and you get ready to embrace life ahead, I hope you and your family are okay. We have learnt so much in the last few months – our nutritionists have adjusted to social distancing and even phone-based counselling. But what I want to talk to you about is our ration baskets which, in many instances, have been the reason for children to continue treatment.

Take, for example, 11- year old Tonoto Zhimomi fighting Medulloblastoma, a fourth stage Brain Tumour at BBCI Hospital, Guwahati. His mother, Vilika Zhimomi, would travel from Nagaland to Assam, with her son during the lockdown, leaving behind two other children and Tonoto’s father. He had to stay back to manage the family-run meat shop.

The lockdown eventually forced them to shut shop. And their landlord in Dimapur threatened to evict the family if Tonoto continued visiting the hospital for check-ups, for the fear that he or his mother may bring back COVID.

So for the sake of Tonoto’s treatment and nutrition, the family took a financially tough decision and mother and son shifted to a lodge near Guwahati’s BBCI hospital. But the fear of COVID and the family’s troubles added to Tonoto’s existing anxieties of fighting cancer. Momi, our Nutritionist, assured Tonoto that despite the pandemic he will not go hungry and promised him a steady supply of ration and supplements.

Ration supplies that friends like you helped provide have been able to give a new lease of life to kids like Tonoto. Thank you!

Sponsor more ration bundles

Lockdown eases and OPDs open

We are bracing ourselves for a long haul as outpatient services open up and more children restart their treatment. Because cancer doesn’t stop, and neither will we!

The heroes in white nursing our country back to health

By Uma Seshadri, Lead Program Expansion

May 16th, 2020

There is a silent brigade working round the clock to nurse the country back to health. Yes, our colleagues and partners in the hospitals we work with, our nurses. Their dedication and nonstop assistance during this pandemic is both heartening and humbling.

Some haven’t seen their families for months, others have left young babies at home. Some made spirited comebacks from the lockdown because they felt guilty about being away from the frontline. We spoke to our sisters in arms, at Saroj Gupta Cancer Hospital, Kolkata.

29-year-old Sister Pushparani, a native of Jharkhand, shares, “Of course, the situation makes us nervous. But, the oath we took as nurses during our training gives us the strength to face this situation fearlessly. My patients, especially our children, depend on me both physically and emotionally. So, looking after them along with colleagues and friends keeps me going”.

Early last month, many of you contributed to help us bring PPE and masks to our sisters in 13 hospitals. Thank you for your generous support.

This is what your support has helped us do.

Ration distribution with social distancing at Saroj Gupta Cancer Hospital.

Happy Mother's Day

By Uma Seshadri, Lead Program Expansion

May 10th, 2020

We’re grateful to all those of you who supported us for masks and gloves so that our Nutritionists who are working during the lockdown may do their jobs safely and confidently. A major part of my role at Cuddles is to mentor our nutritionists and, as frontline health workers, the current situation has been quite stressful for them. One of them is our Nutritionist, Khushnuma Amin, from Srinagar who is also a new mother to 1-year old Baby Ilsa. Khushnuma chose to work during the lockdown at SKIMS Hospital, Srinagar.

So as her mentor and guide, I asked Khushnuma if she was okay about leaving Baby Ilsa at home to work under these circumstances. She said “It made me nervous at first. But the moment I stepped into the hospital and met everyone, all the stress went away. I am happy that I can help other moms, who are not as fortunate as me. They are at the hospital, confused and stressed with their child’s cancer. I’m glad I could be there for them. On my way back home, on the first day, I called my parents before leaving and told them to not tell Ilsa I’m coming. I couldn’t wait to see her. But first headed to the shower and then hugged her tight.”

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow so I couldn’t help but share this story with you!

 

As the lockdown eases in many cities and OPDs open, we’re bracing ourselves for the new challenges that lay ahead.

What’s cooking Ma?

The lockdown has stoked our hidden culinary talents. Yet, so often, we’ve picked up the phone and asked our mums (or dads if they are better cooks) for the recipe to our favourite dishes. What’s your favourite dish from your mum that you can’t stop thinking about? Share it with us on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to tag @cuddlesfoundation. We’d love the recipe too, by the way! 😉

Ma’s Food Heals

Wishing all the mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day. You can honour your Ma by giving another mother the opportunity to nourish her kids to good health.
Click here to support a mom with nutrition for her child and family.

This week, tips on managing cancer during COVID-19

By Nikita Mahakal, Head Nutritionist

May 2nd, 2020

For the last few weeks we’ve been getting a lot of queries from parents about how to care for their children fighting cancer amid the lockdown. They are confused about treatment timelines, hygiene and infection control at home, amongst others. We wanted to answer these questions accurately and so invited Dr.Sunil Bhat for a quick Q&A for a video meeting (our new normal these days!)

Dr.Bhat is our partner-doctor and Senior Consultant in Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplantation at Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center, Bengaluru. We’ve been working closely with his team for the last 3 years. Here’s the link to the video that has since been forwarded to patient families we are in touch with.

“Even after the lockdown eases, we will have to continue with all the precautions that we are taking right now. The reason for announcing an ease in the lockdown is to reduce economic stress; the risk of exposure will continue to exist,” says Dr.Sunil Bhat.

As our Nutritionists head back to service (8 more centres opened up last week!), new challenges emerge. Our most immediate action is to get food and ration to the kids and the families currently in treatment in the hospitals.

Ration distribution continues thanks to local heroes

Delivering ration bundles during the lockdown has been very difficult. But our partners, like Priyanshu Singh – owner of a local grocery store in Guwahati, made sure that the kids have all the food they need; that was their first priority. Priyanshu sends this inspiring story.

April 25th, 2020

Translated from Hindi

When the lockdown started, everybody was panicking. Our landlord made it quite clear that we were not allowed to leave the house. My wife and my 5-year-old son were really scared, and so was I. For the first five days I couldn’t step out of the house.

 

But delivering food to our kids at BBCI Hospital was very important to me.

 

I have experienced cancer in the family and I understand how difficult it is for the person with cancer and even the family. We do our best to help them every way possible. I have been associated with Cuddles for two years now. During this time, I’ve been delivering ration bundles to families with children who have cancer. I knew that this was the time they needed us the most, so I did what I could to step up and help them.

I requested the landlord to allow me to go to the shop. I told him that I needed to deliver food because the children and their families needed me. It took some time but he finally relented, only with one condition, I had to take a bath outside the building every time I entered. But that was okay.

I went to my shop and realised that we weren’t allowed to keep it open because of the lockdown. We needed to take written permission from the police before starting. So we went to the police station and with much difficulty, we got permission after a week.

This past month has been very difficult but I think that it has all been worth it. I am very happy that I could help the children during these times of crisis.

Thanks to local heroes and partners like Priyanshu Singh we have managed to keep our ration distribution going in almost 8 hospitals.

Report from a hospital in Varanasi

Niqhat Rizvi, Cuddles Nutritionist from Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital, Varanasi, reports from the frontline

April 18th, 2020

I’m writing this just as I hear that the lockdown has been extended till May 3rd. I hope all of you are well, wherever you are. I’m at the hospital in Varanasi. Right now on a mid-morning break so I can write this down. Slept at 3:00 AM last night!

 

A lot has changed since the pandemic and the immediate lockdown that followed. Well, for one, I made the hospital campus my home. 🙂 I decided to leave my PG accommodation and move in here so I could manage my patients and the workload better. It’s paid off!

 

We have seen a 50% drop in OPD visits but the workload has increased because the staff – Dr. Megha and Dr.Parichay and the nurses – are spread thin across different departments and working in shifts. We’re all multitasking. Besides my regular counseling, I now also look after the administrative work at the hospital, checking in on appointments, answering calls, amongst other things.

We are also taking extra precautions for safety and hygiene especially because our kids are severely immunocompromised and vulnerable to the smallest of infections. The paediatric ward has been isolated to prevent such risks.

Because of the lack of transportation and the lockdown, kids are finding it very difficult to reach the hospital. Yesterday, a parent got his child on a bicycle. They had travelled close to 200 km! But once they were here, all of us made sure they were taken care of.

On a happier note

I want to share this incident that happened a few days ago. I had made a diet plan for one of our children who is undergoing treatment currently. And the father was quite upset. He said, “Ma’am I have no source of livelihood right now. Everything has changed. We also have other children at home. How will I be able to afford all this?”. Thanks to you, we could give him our ration basket. He was so happy!

That’s it for me today. Duty calls. Take care. Wash your hands. Eat freshly cooked food. Nothing works better to fight off infections than a strong immune system

Engage. Educate. Advocate.

By Uma Seshadri, Lead Program Expansion

April 11th, 2020

Thank you for your messages enquiring about our patients and their families. Despite your own difficult circumstances, you have come forward showing solidarity with our mission, which continues with the same energy and purpose. Your love and support inspires us all.

Amid the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, our children have been asked to stay away from hospitals as much as possible especially because of how vulnerable they are to infection. Nutritionists from 26 out of 30 of our partner hospitals have been asked by hospitals to shift to working from home till 15th of April, until further notice.

 

We’ve set out a 3-pronged approach, “Engage-Educate-Advocate” for our teams to tackle these new changes.

 

We spent the first week engaging with teams and helping them transition into working from home navigating patchy internet in smaller towns and limited space at homes. We’re also using this time to educate or upskill our Nutritionists in basic and advanced nutrition for paediatric oncology. We’re conducting refreshers using video calls and Google Classroom, writing case studies, recording success stories and penning blogs on nutrition. We’re also training our nutritionists on remote counseling techniques as they advocate and keep track of their patients over the phone. We do a daily check-in with all critical patients who are currently admitted in the hospitals we work in.

On a happier note, our doctors write to us about how their teams and the families we work with are missing us. How the nutritional support we provide makes a difference to their treatment. We can’t wait to meet them!

What we’re reading:

This article from the Lancet Journal says improving care for children with cancer worldwide will bring a triple return on investment and prevent millions of needless deaths. We thank you for your support and contribution.

Because of the pressure on supply and logistics, we are supporting our patient families with mini-ration bundles wherever possible. These have been put together by our nutritionists for those currently unable to access aid due to the lockdown. Small bundles at ₹610 | Medium at ₹1330 | Large at ₹1680. Click here to support our ration program.

About Shreya Gupta

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