Poonam Bagai is a cancer survivor and patient advocate who runs CanKids…KidsCan, an organization that works with children to improve childhood cancer outcomes.
She was 38 when Poonam Bagai was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was an endless fight for her. At times she was very sure that she would survive this and at times she was terrified that she would die and leave her two sons motherless. It was during the time she struggled with cancer that she thought that she did not do anything for the world. She decided that if she survived, she would dedicate her life to the benefit of other people. After three surgeries, nine rounds of chemotherapy, and a traumatizing colostomy, she survived through the deadly disease.
And now at age 60, she runs CanKids…KidsCan, an organization that has provided direct medical and emotional care to 60,000 children living with cancer. Poonam Bagai founded this organization with Sonal Sharma, who is the mother of a child with cancer. Poonam believes that meeting Sonal was destiny. And now, having gone through a divorce as well, Poonam is ready to face anything that life throws at her.
CanKids runs several programmes to support children living with cancer — medical care, education, quality care research, public awareness advocacy, and capacity and skill-building. They also run a parent support group. “During the initial years, we developed a full range of services. This included patient navigation, medical support, psychological support, education for children, information for parents, and more,” Poonam explains in one interview.
In 2005, CanKids helped organize India’s first international Childhood Cancer Day celebrations. Initially started in Delhi, by 2008, they had started branching out to other states. Today they work across 122 hospitals across India.
“Our psychologists provide support to children and parents alike. The teachers ensure the children can keep learning during their treatment. We run the CanShala school in Mumbai for children living with cancer, and plan to start these in other parts of the country as well,” Poonam adds. Their parent support group has over 1,500 members across the country.
“We also run KidsCan Konnect, which is a peer support group for survivors above the age of 13. We have ten chapters across India, and each chapter head is a survivor. We give them internships, jobs, and whatever else they need,” she notes. Every year, CanKids engages with around 20,000 children living with cancer.
Poonam has spent many years working with the Indian Cancer Society and is also the current vice-chairman of Pallium India. In 2021, she was awarded for being a Woman Leader In Social Impact, and running a women-led organization wherein women make up for 64 per cent of the employees. She has also been the recipient of the Nargis Dutt Cancer Conqueror Award, the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award, and the Karmaveer Maharatna.