Growing up, I’d never even been to a hospital.
I was a pretty fit and healthy kid – I used to be in my school sports teams, and competitively swim three or four times a week. In fact, the day before I was diagnosed with cancer, nexium side effects mucous I even played a cricket match!
But over the course of the month prior to my diagnosis at age 15, I’d noticed some changes in myself. I’d started to lose my appetite, I was getting stomach cramps, and I felt really lethargic all the time – all things that were unusual for me.
Because of my persisting symptoms, my parents decided to get me checked out. So, on Sunday 25 April 2010, we headed to the hospital.
Before, however, I’d done the one thing that people tell you not to do – I’d Googled my symptoms. And after my 10 minutes of ‘in-depth’ research, I’d ‘diagnosed’ myself with appendicitis.
I remember thinking about how I’d have to miss a couple of weeks of school and worse than that was having to miss the next few cricket matches for the season. I prayed: ‘Please, whatever it is, let it not be appendicitis!’
After doing some tests, at midnight, I remember a young doctor calling me and my parents into a hospital room. She took a deep breath, and then said to us, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this on a Sunday at midnight, but it looks like Yaajan has something cancerous.’
So many thoughts were going through my mind as she said those words. I remember looking up to see my dad’s eyes had started to fill with tears – only a few years prior to that my grandfather had also passed away from cancer.
My mum then came and sat next to me. I said to her, ‘This doesn’t feel real. It feels like a dream in which at any moment I’m just going to wake up.’ But although she was emotional, she remained calm for me, and responded, ‘This is real, and we’re going to overcome this. Just think positive. Have faith, and think positive.’
I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (or AML), a form of blood cancer that required four aggressive rounds of chemotherapy as treatment.
Treatment started within a week, and over the course of the next seven months, the hospital room became my new bedroom.
It also meant me having to spend the duration of my treatment in hospital – I think I only went home for three or four days in that entire period.
Although it was a tough six months physically on my body, I was fortunate that I was surrounded by so many loved ones, such that my hospital bedroom felt like home.
I realised that half of the battle is a mental one – the willingness to force yourself to eat, to get up and be mobile, and to understand that whatever may happen, will be for the best.
Through my four rounds of chemotherapy, I lost around 20kg in weight, and because the third round of chemo was so aggressive on my body, I had to have emergency surgery.
But after six months in hospital, I was told by my doctor after my last round of chemotherapy that my test results showed I was in remission. I was finally cancer free.
And so now, still cancer-free and reflecting back on that time in my life 10 years later, I’m grateful for the lessons it taught me, the people it brought to me, and the outlook it gave me on life.
It taught me about the power of the mind and how your ability to control your own determines how you overcome the obstacles life will throw at you.
Because whether it’s your relationship, your work, or cancer, obstacles are going to come your way.
As the saying goes, ‘our mind can either be our best friend, or our worst enemy.’ But which one it ends up being, depends on how we’ve trained it.
At the start of my treatment, all the usual questions one would think came to my mind: ‘Why me?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’
But in changing my outlook my thought process gradually became, ‘What is this part of my life trying to teach me?’
The ability to control your mind (for me, via meditation) will help you to navigate your way through life, rather than it controlling how you respond to situations. It has been one of the most powerful tools which still serves me every day.
It also taught me about how true fulfilment comes from connections and relationships with others, and not from things.
I had no control over losing my hair, and even my eyelashes. It’s scary having to surrender things that belong to you. But what I found was that the more I clung to temporary things in the world, my happiness was just as temporary.
I also found beauty in surrender – understanding that whether it happens during this lifetime, or at the end, everything will be taken. But doing it with a grateful heart and accepting that’s what’s happening is for your best, will allow you to find meaning even in such situations.
My experience taught me about the strength of a family and community; there is power in having people be strong for you, even when you can’t be.
Some people believe that relying on others is a weakness while being independent means being strong. But what I found is that when you can depend upon people at the right time, it can be your greatest source of strength.
Cancer also reminded me that our time is limited. I remember lying in ICU after surgery, and watching the man opposite me eating breakfast. Then, in the next hour, I saw the blue curtain being drawn around him because he had suddenly passed away.
I realised that life is short and that we shouldn’t take time for granted, as it’s the one thing we cannot get back. Had I not gone through that experience, I wouldn’t have gained any of these realisations.
A wise friend told me something when I was younger: ‘By getting we make a living, but it’s by giving we make a life.’ And that saying has stayed with me ever since. So for the 10-year anniversary of my diagnosis, I wanted to find a way to give back. I decided that if my experience can help even one person, it’d be worth it.
Before the chemotherapy claimed my hair, I shaved it off as a fundraiser for Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity that helped save my life. It felt almost poetic then, that to mark a decade since that time, I would once again shave my head as a way to raise funds for the charity.
Over the years, many others have also asked me to share my experiences and learnings. So, in the hope that it may help someone else, I made a few short videos and uploaded them to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram – and I am both shocked and humbled at the response.
I know that I am fortunate for everything that has come my way, so I wanted to try and use my experience as a way to give back to teenagers whose shoes I once was in.
Together we managed reach so many through those videos, and the views and donations started to pour in.
The videos have now gathered more than 100,000 views, and I received so many sweet and encouraging words from people I know, people I haven’t spoken to in some time, and so many that I didn’t know but have since formed friendships with.
And now that we have wrapped up the fundraiser, I’m humbled to announce that together, we managed to raise over a quarter of a million dollars ($277k or £200k to be exact).
When we first started the fundraiser with a $30k target, I would never have imagined we’d be where we are today. But I’ve learnt that life has an amazing way of showing us that its plans for us are bigger than our own sometimes.
I hope going forward that with every turn of fate, I always think of how I’m using my life as a way to serve others.
I strongly believe that there was a reason I survived cancer, and I hope one day, I can fulfil that reason.
And although this fundraiser is now complete, I’m excited for the future. Because even though this chapter is coming to a close, I know that some even more amazing chapters, are yet to open.
Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK charity offering specialist nursing support to young people with cancer. For more information please visit www.teeenagecancertrust.org
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