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Spotlight on Asha Jamal Virani, MD

Asha Jamal Virani, MD founded The Faris Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit that focuses on childhood cancer research, creative arts programs at children’s cancer centers, public awareness and advocacy. The organization’s mission is inspired by Asha’s son Faris, who was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer when he was just 6 years old. He succumbed to the disease at age 9.

Faris D. Virani

Faris’s dream was for the public to recognize and rally around Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in the same way that they do other causes. To that end, the Faris Foundation hosts an annual “Let There Be GOLD” campaign, which last year raised over $1 million for transformational research in high-need, high-impact areas.

“My greatest honor and the privilege of my lifetime is being mommy to my amazingly resilient and spirited children – Faraz, Zoya, and my sweet angel Faris D.”

As both a physician and a mother whose family was affected by a rare form of cancer, Asha Jamal Virani is a passionate advocate who speaks from the heart, an expert on childhood cancer research and a proponent for art therapy.

The Journey

When founding the Faris Foundation, Asha was motivated by her son’s journey and her experience with science, its limitations, and “the healing and hope that lies in the human spirit – the spark of the Divine inherent in us all that can overcome anything.” Faris inspires Asha from sunrise to sunset. “This Foundation is his legacy. His shimmering light leads the way – I follow.”

Asha credits Faris with her ability to “live joyfully and love abundantly without despair, to choose grace and gratitude and faithfully submit to the mystery of life.”

“During his 3-year battle with cancer, our beloved son Faris was bewildered and saddened by the lack of public awareness around childhood cancer and its symbolic gold ribbon,” said Asha Virani, MD. “He asked me, ‘Don’t kids matter? Aren’t we important? When I grow up, I will let there be GOLD.’

This is our call to action—to fulfill the wish of an angel and to raise awareness around the cause. We hope to continue to radiate the gold spirit every September. More importantly, to keep the awareness and conversation around childhood cancer at the forefront, so that no child with cancer ever feels they don’t matter.”

Leading cause of death in children

The Faris Foundation’s commitment to addressing the lack of funding and research for childhood cancer is an urgent one. While childhood cancer is the leading cause of death in children in America, only 4 percent of federal funding for cancer research is spent on childhood cancer. For underfunded cancers like Ewing sarcoma, which Faris had, survival rates and treatments have not changed in decades despite continuing progress in adult cancer treatments. The Faris Foundation plans to diminish this disparity by driving awareness and funding research in high-need, high-impact areas.

Let there be Gold

Anchored by a partnership with AT&T and Prime Communications, the largest AT&T authorized retailer, the Foundation’s annual “Let There Be GOLD” campaign leads awareness efforts with public education and fundraising endeavors at nearly 2,000 AT&T stores in 46 states. In 2019, over 110,000 customers contributed to a campaign that raised $1 million dollars for childhood cancer research and creative arts programs at children’s cancer centers.

The Faris Foundation GOLD Parade at Texas Children’s Hospital_Courtesy of Texas Children’s Hospital

The Foundation honors and recognizes children and families affected by childhood cancer through its series of signature September celebrations at children’s cancer centers, including Texas Children’s Hospital and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In years past, these celebrations have consisted of gold parades at hospitals, art parties and talent shows. This year, in order to address the increased isolation children and families in cancer centers are facing, the Foundation has adapted its celebrations to include a socially distanced carnival for inpatients. And the delivery of individually packed kits with golden craft supplies to facilitate a personal gold party for each child and family.

Ways to help

Other awareness campaign elements reflect creative arts, one of the Foundation’s three key areas. Aligned with The Faris Foundation’s core belief that every child should have access to art as a part of their treatment plan, new public art initiatives include the inaugural “Art is HOPE” juried art competition, an installation by famed muralist Anat Ronen and a series of free online art workshops each Saturday in September.

We invite the public to take part in the campaign throughout the month of September in a variety of ways:

  • AT&T customers at select stores nationwide can add a donation to The Faris Foundation at point-of-sale purchases.
  • Find store locations in your state here: https://bit.ly/3h9a71X
  • Individuals can donate to the campaign by visiting www.lettherebegold.org
  • Raise awareness through “Let There Be GOLD” social media profile picture frames and story stickers. Use campaign hashtag #LetThereBeGOLD and tagging The Faris Foundation
  • Attend a free virtual art class; sign up for updates at
    www.thefarisfoundation.org/special-delivery/
  • In Houston, look out for a pop-up art installation by Anat Ronan

To learn more about The Faris Foundation, visit thefarisfoundation.org.

To become involved with the “Let There Be GOLD” campaign, visit lettherebegold.org.

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