Spreading the joy of Bollywood and awareness about gynaecological cancer

Jess with her mum, Chandra

Jess Kumar’s passion for Bollywood started as a young Fijian Indian girl when she and her family would enjoy Bollywood movies each weekend. Little did Jess know that Bollywood would inspire a career change, a way to give back to her adopted country and help her raise funds for gynaecological cancer research in honour of her mother.

“We didn’t have a lot of toys growing up in Sydney, I had limited friends and very protective parents, but we had the magic of Bollywood!” Jess said. “At university, my interest expanded to Bollywood dance nights, and in 2013, I started Bollywood events in Brisbane to connect young people and their communities and culture.

“By 2018, the Indian population had grown, and now there was a Bollywood event every week,” Jess said. “I was promoting international DJs and Indian singers, involved in helping an Indian not-for-profit with social and cultural activities and working full-time in financial services. Life was busy!”

Then in July 2020, Jess’ Mum, Chandra, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“Mum was diagnosed with one symptom – bloating in her stomach,” Jess said. “She had mentioned it to us, and we encouraged her to see her doctor, but she put it off, trying different medications first. When she finally went to the doctor, they told her to go to emergency.

“In the emergency department, they said she couldn’t go home. We were shocked and wanted answers. After two weeks of observation and tests, we learnt she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. It had a huge impact on our close family. Mum was a stay-at-home mum with my Dad, Madhup, raised three children – me, Avin and Elvin – and has two grandchildren – Aavnisha and Sienna. Mum was the keeper of the family – both sides of the family – and my best friend, my go-to person.”

“After her diagnosis, someone supported her at every appointment and treatment. From being such a positive, social, kind, compassionate woman, she became anxious and depressed, asking ‘why me?’.

“Her treatment was aggressive and included a hysterectomy and 11 chemotherapy treatments. One Christmas Day, a doctor said she was ‘cancer-free’, but it turned out not to be. By February 2021, she was back having treatment.

“I am grateful to my employer, the Bank of Queensland, for their understanding and support. It gave me invaluable time with Mum.”

Chandra celebrated her 60th birthday with cancer and didn’t want a big celebration. But for her 61st, her family knew it may be the last birthday they would celebrate together, and they made it memorable.

“We hired a place at the Sunshine Coast and spared no expense spoiling Mum,” Jess said. “Ten days later, she felt something wasn’t right in her stomach and returned to the hospital. At first, Mum wasn’t allowed home, but after three weeks, when we knew she was palliative, we brought her back to her home of 30 years. Every day until she died on 10 December 2021, one of us was there with her.

“It still angers me that we didn’t know one small symptom could change a woman’s life,” Jess said. “I want to raise awareness, especially in multicultural communities, that gynaecological cancer is deadly – like breast cancer. In the Fijian Indian community, you never hear of someone getting or passing away from cancer – it’s not spoken about and goes undiagnosed for too long.”

After her Mum died, Jess embarked on a solo road trip up the east coast. She stopped in Cairns and decided that is where she would start afresh.

“Initially, I transferred with BOQ and worked in the Cairns branch, but I knew in my heart that it was time to give community events a go.”

Jess started an event management company, Let’s Create Events, specialising in Bollywood events and festivals. Her first big event is a charity ball on 14 October in Cairns, where she will bring together her love for Bollywood and the community while honouring her Mum’s life.

“Bollywood does not belong to one community – it is an opportunity to connect socially and build friendships and relationships with anyone who loves engaging with Indian culture, dance, music, food and dress.

“Deepawali is a festival celebrated around the world. It’s associated with the triumph of good over evil and is a time for joy, happiness and togetherness. I hope my charity ball during Deepawali will also spread awareness about gynaecological cancer in the community and help fundraise for research. If this event inspires just one woman to see her doctor before it’s too late, it will all be worth it.”

If you would like to help make Jess’ first Bollywood fundraising event in Cairns a sell-out, please gather your friends and get your tickets today.