• A New Lease of Life

On December 4, 2017, Bansari and I at the age of 24, tied the nuptial knot in our hometown in Surat, Gujarat. We embarked on our new journey of togetherness filled with dreams, laughter, and joy, and with a promise to be each other’s backbone through thick and thin.

The first thing I realized about our growing closeness was when I started to relish capsicum and broccoli mixed vegetable curry cooked by Bansari. During my growing-up years, these two veggies never topped my 10 best vegetable list. But as the adage goes, “The way to a man's heart is through his stomach”, and Bansari proved it right. I started falling in love with her culinary skills too. Every day was a surprise for me as Bansari would serve me lip-smacking Indian and Chinese cuisines and desserts. Within three months of our marital bliss, I had become a foodie. My waist size increased from 30 cm to 32 cm and I had put on almost 4kg.

We had many things in common including travelling. Actually, it was our wanderlust that brought us together and we dreamt of becoming globe trotters. After six months of marriage, we took the first international flight to Rome, the capital of Italy. Like thousands of other couples, Bansari and I also put a stop at Trevi Fountain—the massive thundering water feature with sculptures adorned with Roman gods and horses. It was a sight to behold. As a tradition, couples flip coins into the water for their everlasting relationships. How could we miss a chance to make a wish for a lifetime of togetherness? We followed the tradition.

We spent nearly a month travelling across Europe and everything looked surreal. Life seemed like a fairytale where nothing would go wrong until it threw us a curveball. One day I realized that I was having difficulty holding objects and it was affecting the finer movements of my right hand. It was associated with a tingling sensation over the right hand and numbness of the right great toe. This development in my body system gradually started to pose difficulty in my day-to-day functioning.

Suddenly, our life came to a standstill and it seemed to have different plans for us. For a moment, I felt life will never be the same again.

After several rounds of visits to various hospitals, in the city, the doctors told me that I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour called Astrocytoma. It begins in cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. Some astrocytomas grow very slowly and others can be aggressive cancers that grow quickly.

The news sent shivers down my spine and pierced us like shards of glass. For a few days, I was numb and my brain stopped working; I was spending sleepless nights. Seeing me becoming quiet and fighting continuously with a plethora of thoughts that raced through my mind, Bansari said that we should seek medical treatment. We travelled the length and breadth of the country in search of proper treatment but to no avail. Hearing a big ‘No’ or ‘not possible’ response from consultants, my hope shrank. “Why only me?” was the question that repeatedly played in my mind.

Bansari too was fighting with her emotions. At times, she would become speechless and stare at the wall for hours. In short, we were simply confused.

Amidst the emotional upheaval and confusion, lay a ray of hope, and this came in the form of Bansari’s grit and determination to win over the situation. Her “never say die” attitude bolstered my confidence during our challenging times.

Upholding the promise that she made, she continued to search for hospitals and medical centers on the internet. We even tried contacting a few hospitals abroad. But Bansari’s untiring perseverance and relentless effort finally led us to the website of Apollo Proton Cancer Centre (APCC).

In 2018, we flew to Chennai to meet the experts at APCC for consultation.

Voila!’ we were at the right place and at the right time for treatment. As the clinicians at APCC reinforced hope in us, our eyes were filled with tears of joy and we hugged each other tightly. After a series of discussions with family members, finally, we said, “yes” to the suggested treatment.

Next, was my entry to the proton gantry.

Bansari held my hand as I was taken inside for my first line of treatment. Later, the clinicians told me that my MR imaging showed a lobulated expansile lesion in cervico-medullary junction with minimal peri-lesional edema. The imaging features suggested low-grade astrocytoma. Being from a non-medical background, I was clueless about what the clinicians were telling me then. At some point in time, a fleeting thought crossed my mind making me think if I would lead a normal life again but Bansari, as always, stood by me like the Rock of Gibraltar.

I underwent biopsy of the lesion from the posterior approach with the removal of the foramen magnum and magnum and C1 posterior arch under Neuro-navigation. The experts at APCC advised me to undergo radical radiotherapy with Intensity Modulated Proton Therapy. During the course of radiation from the last week of March 2019 to the first week of May 2019, I was assessed clinically once weekly to check for compliance with treatment and toxicity assessment, if any.

Within a few days of undergoing proton beam therapy, I started to feel better. Hmmm! It’s working for me I told to myself. Seeing me smile, Bansari touched my cheeks and said in Gujarati, “Tame saroo thai Jasso (you’ll get better).”

After three weeks of treatment, I felt better compared to the first day. Apart from the treatment, Tender Loving Care (TLC) is a silent revolution that sweeps the corridors of APCC every day. It is practiced like science. In my case, the process began with detection and treatment, and the clinicians, nurses, and other staff left no stone unturned in ensuring maximum comfort and well-being. At APCC, I was told that Proton therapy has been shown to have excellent local control of various cancers and especially cancers located in some of the most difficult areas such as skull-base regions of the body which are otherwise difficult to treat. Something I learned and would like to share the information with others.

During the course of the treatment, I was advised not to stop my physical exercises. Hence, a man who never hit the gym before is now a regular “gymmer”. I was underweight when I was diagnosed with a brain tumour but today I am a healthy person and I religiously follow my fitness regime. I also take long walks every evening but of course with Bansari. The uphill journey we went through reminds me of the following quote:

“Never give up and always have hope,
And when the road ahead looks dark,
Trod on, for just around the corner,
The light is waiting to shine at you again.” Anonymous

Basking in the glory of winning over cancer, Bansari and I renewed our wanderlust. After the treatment, our first trip was to Singapore. It was a surprise gift from me to her and she deserved it. Thanks to the advancement in technology, I am reliving my life to the fullest. The world has once again become my oyster.