The Susen Daniel Memorial Cancer Relief Fund’s charity fundraiser was on track for its 30th straight year and raised an estimated $100,000, above their intended goal, for impoverished cancer patients based in Kerala, India, at the Sheraton Cerritos Hotel on Oct. 17 in California.
The annual gala mixed entertainment, including comedy by Ohio-based Indian American humorist Rajiv Satyal, with its serious message to not only render financial assistance, but to also increase the yearly number of recipients from 200 to 300, as Mathew Daniel, chairman and founder, welcomed guests and described the Woodland Hills-based non-profit as a trustworthy “neighborhood” charity.
With little to no overhead, Daniel told India-West, SDM and its core of volunteers and 15 long-standing board members have assisted about 3,000 cancer-stricken families to date by providing check disbursements for food and daily needs, which currently amount to approximately $150, or roughly Rs. 10,000, per person.
Monetary payouts are channeled via select hospitals in India such as the Regional Cancer Center, Trivandrum, where SDM’s first patient was assisted through its initial modest endowment fund.
The Amala Cancer Hospital, Thrissur; Calicut Medical College, Kozhikode; and Caritas Medical College, Kottayam, also joined SDM in its philanthropic efforts and contribute to the yearly list of “poorest of the poor patients” sent to SDM for further review and payee selection, according to Daniel.
Hospital beds and related expenses are also sponsored fully or partially at the cancer hospitals when patients cannot afford hospital stays, explained Daniel. The cost of sponsoring a bed is $750 a year.
SDM’s mission, as recalled by Daniel, was instituted in 1985, soon after his wife Susen succumbed to ovarian cancer. The realization of the low chances of surviving cancer, coupled with the lack of affordable medical care for the indigent, not only prompted Daniel to action, but gained momentum when he lost his daughter Sudha to breast cancer in 2002.
Master of ceremonies Reggie Pottukulam kicked off the event and introduced speakers and board members Ivy Thomas, Dr. Sajini George, and Abraham Mathew who urged support, echoed SDM’s contributions, and honored board members and donors such as Jay Zaveri, a longtime supporter of the organization.
Cancer spares no one, said Thomas, as she outlined SDM’s historical progress to support the poor in India, but “what does poor mean?” she asked the nearly 500 guests, going on to equate the daily cost of stay at one of SDM’s sponsored hospitals to the cost of a latte here in the United States, which many patients in India are too poor to afford.
Thomas also touched an emotional chord by relaying the expressions of gratitude from cancer sufferers who occupy the sponsored “free beds” at the hospitals. Most, noted Thomas, are bewildered that there are people half way across the world who cared and were willing to assist in their most “vulnerable” time.
Mathew, current president of SDM, instilled a sobering realism in his speech as he acknowledged its pains and growth. The swell of its endowment fund to $350,000 was called “remarkable” for a small organization.
But hope is mingled with hurdles, said Mathew, who stated that although checks are written directly to patients, not the hospitals, “most patients don’t have bank accounts” and a “majority of them pass away before funds can be received.” The benefit, though, in such cases passes on to the surviving family members.
Along with Mathew, Thomas and George, Daniel also honored board members Jai Johnson, Sunil Daniel, Vinodh Bahuleyan, Jay Nair, Joseph Ouso, C.A. Philipose, Priya Philipose, Dr. Ravi Raghavan, Ravi Vellatheri, Sunil Warrier and Binoy Yohannan during the event.
SDM secretary Jai Johnson closed the evening’s speeches with the statistic from the National Cancer Institute that “every 13th new cancer patient is an Indian.”
Aside from raffled prizes, entertainment was also provided by artists Joya Kazi Unlimited, Maya and Biju, DJ Greg Tria and Valley Malayali Arts and Sports Club. For more information please visit sdmcancerfund.org.