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Terminally ill patients teach us how to #LaughAtDeath

31-March-2017
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Terminally ill patients teach us how to #LaughAtDeath

“Hello everybody, I am a Sikh.”

“So Sikh that I was admitted to Guru Nanak Hospital.”

It is a joke, go ahead and laugh. Only, this joke was told by a terminally-ill patient.

Agreed, that was a particularly dark joke. For a terminally-ill patient to crack a joke on death may seem morbid and that comes from the notion that it is a taboo to even speak about death. And it is that notion that Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC) wanted to tackle with its latest public awareness campaign.

This new IAPC public awareness campaign on palliative or end of life care is aimed at helping Indians #LaughAtDeath. The campaign has been conceptualised by Medulla Communications.

Speaking about the main insight that inspired the campaign, Praful Akali, Founder & MD, Medulla Communications, said, “We learnt that one in two cancer patients in India don’t even know that they are being treated for cancer.” The team learnt that not only is death a taboo topic, but even doctors and families don’t discuss it. Akali said that after speaking to many terminally-ill patients they found that it is those who had been to palliative care who could talk about death and even joke about it. “And that is the ultimate indication of being comfortable about death,” he said.

Armed with that insight, Akali and his team conceptualised this campaign, which features terminally-ill patients performing a stand-up comedy show for their families and doctors. “For all of the patients who took part in the campaign, performing stand-up was something they checked off their bucket list,” Akali said.

In 2016 IAPC and Medulla together had initiated a similar public awareness campaign - #LastWords. The heavily emotional campaign featured real nurses recollecting last words of their patients. When asked why the team chose to go with humour this year, Akali said that the new campaign was emotional in its own way, adding, “This video has made people laugh and cry at the same time, and I don’t think we have seen anything like that in a while.”

Working with terminally ill patients comes with its own set of challenges. “Until the last minute we did not know if we would be able to run the campaign, because it depended entirely on 4 amateur stand-up comedians who could have frozen on stage,” said Akali. One of the participants, a 93-year-old woman passed away two weeks before the final shoot. And another participant, a 25-year-old cancer patient could not take part because he was experiencing severe side-effects of radiation therapy.

Sharing his experience of working on this campaign, Amit Akali, CCO, Medulla, said that this was the most difficult (almost impossible) project of their lives. “It was made easy and possible by the patients, eager to share their stories and make the most of their last days. They moved us with their courage and floored us with their live performances, some of them taking a stage for the first time in 85 years! They opened their lives to the stand-up comics and rehearsed hard for days,” he said.

Mihir Chitre, Creative Group Head, also said that he was happy to work with the patients, “The most rewarding part of this campaign has been interacting with the terminally ill patients. I think they’ve changed the way I look at life,” said Chitre.

For this campaign patients were selected from hundreds of terminally ill patients that IAPC members support daily. The chosen patients were trained to perform stand-up comedy by stand-up comedians Kunal Kamra, Kashyap, Vinay Sharma, Punit Pania, Shriram R and Anand Reghu.

Dr. Mary Ann Muckaden, President of IAPC, said that she is looking forward to increase access to palliative care in India with Medulla. “Right now only 3 per cent of cancer patients get even simple pain relief. Hopefully, this campaign will change that,” she said.

This campaign is being pursued across all media channels with unique partnerships. Next week the campaign will go on air on Radio Mirchi stations across the country with the four participants recording their performance in Radio Mirchi’s studio and interacting with RJs on air.

The campaign has already gone viral across social media and was trending on Twitter within 45 minutes of its launch. #LaughAtDeath was trending on Twitter for 3 hours and garnered 140 million impressions at last count.

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