Fighting Cancer with Cuddles

Meet the only NGO in the country that provides children who suffer from cancer with nutritious food

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“Health is not valued till sickness comes,” said Thomas Fuller. In the context of India, this quote gains especial relevance, where malnutrition is rampant and a major cause of death of children under five. And when this problem is combined with cancer, the result is truly terrifying.

Cuddles Foundation, a Mumbai based non-profit organisation provides children suffering from cancer with the necessary nutrition. Due to the treatment they go through, cancer patients have a weakened immune system, which may make them susceptible to other diseases. Cuddles also aspires to change that.

Founded by Purnota Dutta Bahl in the year 2012, Cuddles is a one-of-a-kind organisation, as no other NGO has taken up nutrition for cancer patients as a cause. On November 14, 2016, Cuddles received the National Award for services rendered in the field of Child Welfare.

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So what inspired Purnota to start Cuddles? She explains, “I once visited Tata Hospital in Mumbai, where I saw a small child suffering from cancer. It made me think of my own girls, and how they could have easily been in the place of the child.” Purnota then decided to talk to the social department at Tata. They told her about how acquiring donations specifically for the purpose of nutrition is a major problem. “This is what made me start Cuddles,” she says.

In comparison to a well-nourished child, the cure rate is 50% lower for malnourished children suffering from cancer. Nutritious food would provide the children with the strength to undergo treatment. “We found out that 40% of child cancer patients leave the treatment half way because their bodies are too deprived of nourishment to cope with the heavy treatment,” she said.

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One of the members, Bishakha Kamath tells us, “Malnourished children are five times as likely to die from cancer due to their intolerance for chemotherapy. As a result, they have to either refuse treatment or abandon it if already begun. Cuddles aims at reaching out and provide nutrition to as many children as possible.” A report by Tata Memorial Hospital suggests that the treatment abandonment rate for cancer has reduced from 20% to 3.7%. Nutrition has played a big role in this development.

Cuddles has partnerships with several government and charity hospitals such as Tata, Wadia, Sion, AIIMS and more, across the country. “Our team of nutritionists in each of these hospitals guide the parents of the patients once the treatment starts. They also take care of nutrition needs,” adds Bishakha. “We have set up our base in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Lucknow, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. We have our nutritionists in all these places who give us daily updates,” says Jyoti Varghese, another member of Cuddles.

Bishakha adds, “Our fund raising project works towards procuring nutritious food for the children. Cuddles also intends to start cancer education programmes. The families are also taught the importance of food and how the intake of healthy food can lead to a healthy life.

The number of children suffering from cancer in our country is large and this makes it difficult to reach out to all of them at the same time. Cuddles Foundation tries its level best to touch the lives of as many children as possible.