A survivors voice

By Gagan Ishwar, India (2005) November 20, 2010

Today, I am standing before you because of the blessing, good wishes and prayers of my family, teachers, friends and all my elders, the professional competence of my doctors and above all, God has been kind to me.

My struggle with cancer began when I was 12 years of age. I was in the eighth class and was an energetic sportsman. I was expecting to win medals on the annual sports day in my school.

One day during the summer vacation I felt excruciating pain in my right knee. An X-ray was done. The doctors told my parents that it was very serious and a biopsy had to be done to rule out osteogenic sarcoma, the worst kind of bone cancer. And in case it was cancer, my leg would have to be amputated without wasting any time otherwise my life was in danger.

We left for Mumbai and reached Tat Memorial Hospital the next morning. We met Doctor Kurkure. After a look at the X-ray, she said it was 99.9% cancer and referred me to Dr. Puri an orthopaedic surgeon who conducted the biopsy.

We came back to my cousin’s house in Mumbai. He asked me what the doctors had said. I said, “It is 99,9% cancer.” He said: “Where is the difference: 0,01% added makes it 100%.” We both laughed, but within I was worried, very much so and in fact I cried when I was alone. I wondered whether I would still be able to walk on my two legs.

The biopsy confirmed the diagnosis cancer. The treatment started immediately. I went through eight chemotherapies, each lasting 5 days. Imagine five days of non-stop medication drop by drop through a catheter. Five of these chemos were conducted under the able supervision of Dr. Marwaha and Dr. Anita Trehan at the PGI.

After three chemos I went through a major operation on the right leg. Dr. Puri at TMC Mumbai did the operation. Now I have an artificial knee and a 15″ long prosthesis in my right leg. After eight very difficult months, the doctors told me that I was free of tumor and could go back to my normal life.

I started going to school again. But one thing in my life was missing, the one thing I loved the most. I could not play football, take part in athletics and could not be in the Bhangra team. I missed it and felt very bad. But then I was and still am a sportsman – I decided to take these setbacks in my stride.

After about eleven months I felt a pain in my chest. I could not move my left arm comfortably. I would get tired very soon. I guessed that the caner had spread to my lungs. But I kept it to myself. I did not tell my parents, as I believed that it was the end of me. And I did not want to trouble them.

A routine periodic check-up confirmed my worst fears. Cancer had spread in both lungs. My left lung was full of pleural liquid and the right lung had cancerous nodules.

The next morning I went to school and cried there, as I believed that it was my last day in school. That day I played football with my friends as I believed I would not be among them any more.

We reached Mumbai the next morning. The doctors there told my parents that there was no hope for my survival and nothing could be done and that it could be less than six months. A doctor wrote on the file “At this stage surgery does not make any sense.” I had also given up hope. But then Dr. Kurkure said that she would try something if we could bear it. She gave no assurance but gave hope.

M parents told me. “Don’t be scared of death. You have been a lion throughout. And even now you are a lion.” They expected me to fight it out and not to give up. One of my uncles came to the hospital to see me and said: “You will win this battle.”

I realised death comes to everybody and one day it will come to me also. But it was not time for me to leave. I decided that I would not leave this world unless I had achieved something and given back something to the world. How could I let down my parents, my family, my doctors, my teachers, my friends and all those who had prayed for me and wanted me to go back with them!

God helps those who help themselves. I decided to fight like a warrior and I fought with my full strength. I prayed to God to be with me. I learnt to meditate and I always felt stronger after I had meditated.

I went through eighteen more extremely tough chemotherapies again, half of them in Delhi under the supervision of Dr. Gauri Kapoor in Rajiv Gandhi Hospital. After nine chemos I was operated upon in the left lung by Dr. Mistry in Mumbai. The right lung was apparently O.K. Everyone was surprised to see the results. Even the doctors said it was no less than a miracle.

Towards the end of the treatment, doctors detected an active cancerous nodule in my right lung. I was again operated upon in my right lung and am still under observation.

I started going to school in November 2003 and did not want to be left behind in any sphere. My teachers and friends were very helpful. I passed my 10th grade (CBSE-Examination) with 65% marks. My principal said on seeing me: “Well that is 100% in everything.” And that was a reward in itself. It appeared in the newspapers.

That was when Sahayta came to know about me. They traced me and contacted me at my place. They sent information about my fight to ICCCPO, the international organization that helps cancer patients and survivors. ICCCPO gave me a scholarship and invited me to their conference in Oslo, Norway. But for certain reasons, I could not go there.

Today after four years of eventful life, I think I understand life better. After having been so close to death, now I know what life is. I know what it means to be alive. Now I try to reach out to other young people who are suffering from the same disease. I share my experience with them and give them hope. Encouraged by my results, another boy from Patiala has been given the same treatment. I pray for the best for him.

Now, I live every moment of my life. I have greater respect for the people who stood by me and believed in me. I have seen others facing difficult times and standing by me throughout these years, with faith and determination. I realize people’s love when they prayed for me in churches, madirs and dgurudwaras. Now I know what it means when they say, give back to the world what it gives to you. Now I believe in God and firmly believe that God is always kind and will always be with me.