Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 460th story of Our Life Logs |
Life can be tricky; it’s like teetering along the edge of a cliff. One setback can land you on the streets. But I didn’t know that at first. I was born to an average Hindu family in Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, India, in 1993. Like many other Indian Hindu families, we were rooted in tradition. My father was a strict man, but only because he wanted me to live up to my potential and build a strong career. When I was still a child, he had decided that I should go into engineering. In my country, parents often choose careers for their children. That’s the norm, and I wanted to fulfill my father’s wishes.
An average but creative student, I was interested in learning new technologies, specifically computers. My scores in high school were just okay, but still, I chose to go for a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering which was quite demanding. That way, I satisfied both my father’s dream for me and my own love for computers.
By the time I had gotten through most of my first year of engineering, everyone had a ray of hope in their eyes. My family were joyous at the chance to rid themselves of the financial limitations and the daily struggles we endured. But the joy fizzled away when my father became sick and began coughing up blood.
After a hospital visit, we received a diagnosis: throat and mouth cancer. Hope and joy instantly converted to fear and despair. We didn’t have savings to get my father good treatment. We had no choice but to put him in a government hospital where patients weren’t as well tended to. My father remained positive as he fought and struggled. Unfortunately, despite our enormous tries, we lost him in 2011 after eight months of continuous treatment.
His death left a big void in my life and in our family. Now, the financial responsibility fell onto my shoulders. With my second year of college around the corner, I struggled to juggle school fees and household expenses. My father had always wanted me to become a software engineer. On my 18th birthday, a few months before he died, he put the college fees in my hand and said, “Study well, you will be a good engineer one day.”
I vowed to keep that promise.
I started taking the night shift for extra money. I worked eight hours a night, attended four to six hours of classes, and then after completing all other pending work, I’d get about five to six hours of sleep a day, if I was lucky. But I didn’t mind much, because I knew I was walking toward my goal. More so, I had fallen in love. Jiya and I met in college, and we planned to get married after graduation, although because she was a Muslim and I was a Hindu boy, we knew it would be like chewing iron with bare teeth for us to convince our family to approve. Still, we were hopeful.
I continued the same hectic schedule for another three years until I finally completed my bachelor’s in 2015. After much searching, I found a job as a software engineer. I was so proud to have fulfilled my father’s wish.
Everything was falling into place. I could see my future laid out for me. I’d have a great salary, a big house, a chance to give my mom a better life, and a beautiful wife that I would spend each day cherishing. I dreamed of a brighter future. But that’s all it was: a dream.
I told my mom the great news of my job over dinner, and she was lit up with pride. As we began discussing the things that we could do now, a bit of food got lodged in my throat suddenly. I tried to swallow but it wouldn’t go down. Instead, I vomited it up. Within the vomit, there were specks of blood. I stared in fear at the red drops, wondering what it meant. “Maybe it’s just an infection,” my mom said, not wanting to voice what we both feared. The last time someone in our family coughed up blood, they had died.
I visited the doctor the next morning. “A little swelling in the liver,” the doctor said dismissively. “Take this medicine for a few weeks, and you’ll be okay.”
Trusting the doctor, I started on the medicine and began working my new job. But after a few weeks, things weren’t looking up. I could barely get enough food down each day, and my weight was gradually decreasing. I went from 140 pounds to 92.
One day while climbing a ladder at work, pain shot through my legs. Each step I tried to take put me in unbearable pain. After a few days, the pain got so awful that I couldn’t bend my legs or fall asleep at night.
I returned to the doctor, who now showed some concern. He performed a CT scan which revealed that I had developed tumors on my hips. They needed to operate to know the cause and the next steps. I went in for the operation.
It had been three months since the first scare, and I still had no answers. The operation results were still being determined. I couldn’t sit properly because of my back pain, and I could feel a lymph node in my neck. The doctor decided that they would need to operate on all the four nodes in my body and do further tests to understand the cause of my illness. So, we did.
As I waited for an answer, my life fell apart. I could only drink milk for nutrients. No bite of food could make it to my stomach. I ended up vomiting every time. I had to leave my job due to my disabilities. In the midst of all, Jiya’s family forced her to marry a Muslim man. We tried to talk with them, but who would want a badly sick man for their daughter? I never heard from her again. All the happiness I’d once felt shattered.
Meanwhile, my unknown illness was worsening. It felt like God was angry with me. After four operations and many days of uncertainty, the doctor finally found an answer and gave me a call. With a grim tone, he asked me to meet him the next morning and to bring a senior family member with me. I could tell by the tone of his voice that whatever the results were, they were serious. For weeks, I wanted answers but now I was so frightened that I couldn’t sleep the whole night.
I asked my sister’s husband Divyang to come with me, as I knew my mother couldn’t bear any shocking news. On that December day in 2017, I walked into the doctor’s cabin with shaky hands.
The results bore the words, “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a rare type of cancer.”
I never heard this word before. I didn’t cry; I was numb. How could I have cancer? My mind was racing to catch up with my rapidly beating heart.
“Don’t worry, stay calm,” said Divyang.
But how could I be when I had no idea if I would live? I knew nothing. Is it curable? Do I have a death date? And what even is Hodgkin’s lymphoma? The doctor was kind enough to explain everything. Given its rarity, it only affects 1 in every 10 million people. It’s curable with a 75- to 90-percent success ratio, but in my case, I was already in the third stage of cancer because I’d developed four tumors, which meant we needed to start treatment right away.
I needed at least 12 chemo sessions and to be on multiple new medicines. Chemo. The word sent shivers down my spine. I had seen my father fighting to survive while he went through chemo, and how most days, it made him weaker. I wondered if it would be easier to die than go through the pain of chemo. But I had no other option. The cancer had spread to too many parts of my body.
For the next six months, I had to have chemo every 15 days. The first time I went in for it, I was terrified. I considered running out of there and killing myself instead. But then I saw a child in the hospital that changed my mind. He looked about two years old with a shaved head, which meant he had been in chemo for a long time. He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t running. He was facing the treatment with a brave face. His eyes sparkled with hope. I thought to myself, if a two-year-old can do this, so can I.
My stomach was in pain, and I couldn’t taste anything as a side effect of chemo, but thinking of the child’s face helped me keep fighting. I admit, those were the worst six months of my life. I could barely eat, I was always in pain, and death always loomed in the background. I lost my head, hair, and even eyebrows. I became used to crying when I saw my face in the mirror. My face shape changed, my hands were scarred with black dark dots from the chemo syringes. I went to sleep every night with the question: will I wake up tomorrow? A joyful, handsome man I used to be had turned into someone I didn’t recognize.
All friends left me. Everyone kept their distance despite knowing that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a non-infective disease. I had never felt so alone in my whole life. But I had gone too far to give up now. I needed to keep fighting for my father’s memory. He couldn’t beat cancer, but maybe I could.
At the end of the six-month treatment, I finally received the all-clear from my doctor. I couldn’t believe that I had made it to the other side, and I nearly cried tears of joy. But there was a catch. There would always be a possibility of a relapse so I’d need lifetime care and checkups. But at least I had made it out of the cancer zone. After half a year of misery, I had healed!
As I went into recovery, I was faced with the question, should I continue to rest or should I step forward and go back to work? I had lost nearly two years of my life to my health problems, so it wasn’t a hard choice to make. I chose to get back to work. It was time to rebuild my life.
It took me another six months to get back on track, but I was determined. I reconnected with old friends and sorted through problems. I started taking daily walks to stretch my legs after nearly two years of stagnancy. I even started doing easy exercises to get my body warmed up and back to normal.
Next, I needed to prevent a relapse, so I met with a dietitian named Dolly in 2018, who helped me change my diet. She took extra care of me and called every day to ensure I was doing well. Dolly became my friend, and we would spend hours discussing proper diets for a healthy body. Over time, friendship turned to love. She believed in me and believed in us. And I did, too.
I got to a good point to return to the software firm, and I fell into line with ease. After one of the biggest setbacks of my life, I’m finally living the life I’ve always dreamed of. I have a good job, a wonderful woman by my side, and a healthier body. Although I still have to visit the doctor a couple times a year for routine checkups, I’m much better from where I started. Life has become joyful again. I see the handsome and happy me in the mirror again.
I had nearly everything in the palm of my hand before my cancer diagnosis. Back then, I had taken things for granted. But now that I am healed and back on track, I plan to cherish the blessings in my life. I’ve learned that life is never promised. Any day could be your last, so we must make the most of it. And when a problem presents itself, you must have hope and a strong will to live, fight, learn, laugh, and love.
This is the story of Bhavik Patel
Bhavik, currently 26 years old, is a software engineer, a passionate writer, and a health explorer based in Gujarat, India. After the death of his father in 2011, Bhavik vowed to fulfill his father’s dream for him to be a software engineer. However, at the age of 23, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare type of cancer, which put his life in disarray. But his desire to live, explore and live the dreams of his father made him strong enough through chemotherapy treatments. Today he is in remission and lives a happy, healthy life, working his dream job and inspiring others to live life to the fullest. Bhavik met his dietitian, Dolly, about 18 months ago, and they are now planning their engagement.
This story first touched our hearts on October 17, 2019.
| Writer: Bhavik Patel | Editor: Kristen Petronio |