Having fun—and giving back—in Aniketh’s memory

Whenever Ramakrishna Chivukula and Soujanya Mallapragada asked their son Aniketh how his day at school was, the answer was always an enthusiastic “FUN!” Despite being in treatment for a pediatric brain tumor’s side effects and treatment complications for seven years, Aniketh remained the fun-loving, outgoing, and happy child he had been when he was first diagnosed just before his third birthday. When he passed away suddenly in February 2021, at 10, his family knew they wanted to do something to honor his spirit while giving back to the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which kept him alive and happy for so many years. Ramakrishna and Soujanya, together with their son Rushi, 13, soon became Jimmy FundRaisers and the first Aniketh’s Fun Run was born.

On September 18, the family was joined by more than 200 friends, classmates, and community members at Borderline State Park in Easton, Mass., for Aniketh’s Fun Run, a 5K run with food and fun for all members of the community. Volunteers and neighborhood friends from Sharon, Mass., helped the family set up and participants donated to support research and care at Dana-Farber, raising $8,000 in their first event to honor Aniketh.

“Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund has been a huge support for us through our whole journey, especially the doctors and the nurses, so we really wanted to give back,” says Soujanya, Aniketh and Rushi’s mom. “We know pediatric cancer is still lagging a lot in terms of advances. We want to contribute to the research in our own small way, so hopefully we can see much better survival rates in our lifetime.”

From the time Aniketh was first diagnosed in 2013, until his death in 2021, he remained the fun, energetic child he had always been. He would wear costumes and roam the floors of the oncology unit and spend lots of time in the playroom at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.

“The nurses and staff held our hand the entire way,” recalls Soujanya. “They treated Aniketh and all the other children like kings and queens.”

When he was initially diagnosed, no one expected Aniketh to survive for so many years, let alone thrive. But that’s exactly what he did. Although there were ups and downs in his treatment, he remained resilient, going to school and staying active in his classes and community. When he passed away, it was out of the blue, his dad, Ramakrishna, says. “He was there one minute and then he wasn’t.”

 “Aniketh was very self-sufficient, even though he had a lot of needs because of his diagnosis and treatment,” Soujanya says. “You wouldn’t have known he was different because of how active he was. He taught us how to be brave with the things he went through and how he handled it, and we are still learning from him.”

Despite the shock of his death, the family quickly banded together to give back in Aniketh’s memory.

Rushi was a big part of the family’s efforts to fundraise in Aniketh’s honor. His friends and classmates attended the run, and now Rushi wants to be a neurologist, to help others like his brother.

“Cancer isn’t easy to beat,” Rushi says. “It takes a lot of sacrifice and there are a lot of long-term side effects.”

“Anyone could be the next person to experience something like this,” adds Ramakrishna. “We want to keep growing this event and continue to have Rushi be more involved and give back to help raise funds and advance research at Dana-Farber.”

Support Dana-Farber patients and families by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at DefyCancer.org.