India is a big, big country, but what I can do is the seed work."

Mukundray Shah M'64 (chemical engineering) saw firsthand what cancer can do to families. When his wife, Nalini, was diagnosed with breast cancer, they discovered that the disease had touched the lives of so many other members of the Jain Center of Southern California.

After nearly a decade of fighting, Nalini passed away in 2008, and Shah created the Nalini Shah Cancer Fund in her memory. Its mission is the education, prevention and early detection of cancers in their native land of India.

"This came out of our suffering," Shah says. "When cancer is in the family, everybody suffers — emotionally, financially, in every way. It breaks the family. Nalini took it in good spirits, and people in our temple admired her. So she put a seed in my mind. 'Look, I am suffering this, but if you can do something, let others not suffer.'"

Through the fund — with additional financial support from family and community members — Shah has arranged for guest speakers and volunteer training at the temple, but the bulk of the fund's attention is focused on India, where routine cancer screening is almost non-existent. It sponsored a University of Tennessee medical student for a rotation at Tata Memorial Hospital, one of the leading hospitals in Mumbai, where she could study Indian cancer treatment protocols. Shah also works closely with the Indian Cancer Society to support fully staffed mobile detection units that venture out into the community.

"They're not aware of cancer tests like we are in this country," Shah says. "Even if people are well-to-do, they take it for granted that they will never suffer cancer."

The mobile detection unit has already proved successful. In the first batch of camps sponsored by the fund in February and March of this year, 122 women were tested, and six suspicious cases were reported and referred for treatment. But in areas where there is a built-in resistance to testing and preventative care, the mere participation of dozens of individuals can have a snowball effect.

"The best way to educate people is to provide them with cancer tests like we have and then they talk amongst themselves. The news only spreads by people who have gone through the testing," Shah says. "India is a big, big country, but what I can do is the seed work. I've invested whatever money I have, but I am satisfied that it is paying dividends."

Posted March 2013