Krishnam Vats (Osteosarcoma survivor)- Believe in yourself and be unstoppable

Detection / Diagnosis:

It all started back in the year 2017. I faced some problems in my jaw and felt pain in my teeth. I went to the dentist and an x-ray was done. After seeing the x-ray reports, doctors asked me to take the CT scan. In the CT scan, it was noticed that I have a tumor. Later when the treatment was going on, it was noticed that the tumor is somewhat related to cancer. It turned out to be Osteosarcoma cancer. It is a type of cancer that begins in the cells which form bones. Symptoms include localized bone pain and swelling. Osteosarcoma cancer is one of the rarest cancers. And in my case, the tumor, or say cancer was in my jaw. The doctors had to perform multiple chemotherapies and surgeries to beat cancer.

Journey:

My journey started back in 2017. At that time I have just finished my engineering degree. My course was extended due to 1 or 2 backlogs. That was the time when I decided that this is not how I should live or this is not how I want to see myself in the future. I want to achieve something. I want to do something. So I began to work on myself. I started preparing for some competitive exams. I managed to get an interview call from the Indian Army after clearing my CDS exams. After the interview call, I thought of getting some tests done as I was having some problems with my jaw. I felt pain in my teeth. I decided to have a visit to the dentist. The dentist asked me to get an x-ray done. My uncle who lived in Delhi asked me for my x-ray reports once it arrives. When the reports came in, I forwarded them directly to my uncle. He consulted one of his doctor friends, who happens to be a very reputed dentist. My uncle asked me to move to Delhi so the dentist can get a clear picture. 

I moved to Delhi and visited him. My uncle took me to AIIMS. Over there we consulted a doctor. He checked my reports and asked us to get a CT scan. When the CT scan reports came in, I saw my uncle and the doctor discussing the matter among themselves. I was able to understand that the doctor said something regarding the tumor. While heading home, I asked my uncle what was happening to me and he said the doctor stated that it is a tumor. On hearing the news, I was stunned. In all my life I never had any problems with oral or general health. Suddenly I got diagnosed with a tumor which turned my life upside down. 

It was something very unimaginable for me. I asked my uncle not to report my situation to my father as I know my father will be devastated hearing the news. I lost my mother in 2013. She passed away due to breast cancer. My father was completely shattered. I know he was not ready to hear another case of cancer. Thus my journey to fight the illness started.

I had multiple radiation and chemotherapy sessions, MRI’s and some other tests and scans without any family support. I could not tell them about my situation. I knew that if I tell them the news they wouldn’t be able to cope up with the sorrow and will feel shattered by this disturbing news. I did not want that to happen. I knew my family was not emotionally strong after my mother’s death.

My biopsy happened in June 2018. On the day of my biopsy, my father was there. I told him it is just a normal medical procedure. My whole treatment happened in AIIMS. They took a lot of time to diagnose my case as osteosarcoma is a rare type of bone cancer. At AIIMS they told me that I am their 2nd patient with osteosarcoma. A lot of international studies were conducted. My final biopsy report came in the last week of July and I was lucky enough to get a surgery date in the 1st week of August. 

One week before surgery, I decided to tell my family about the scenario. As I live in a joint family, everyone was there. They took this news very badly. Everyone started crying and got emotional. I told them the good news that I am having a surgery date and also cancer has not spread. I need some support from them and be in the hospital with me on the day of surgery. 

Surgery:

The surgery was very hectic for both doctors and me. It took around 10 hours to finish the surgery. The doctors operated on my face and my left leg as they have to maintain the aesthetics by taking a bone from my leg and reconstructing it in my jaw. It was a very challenging operation. They again asked me to do a biopsy. The biopsy revealed that the tumor is still there in my jaw. Doctors informed me that I have to undergo another surgery. The news was very frightening as I just came out of one surgery. When they did surgery on my face it was difficult to operate. To do that, they had to feed me from my nose. They had to cut a portion of my neck to insert some kind of tube so I could breathe. The news about the second surgery made me completely devastated and I felt very low at that moment. My second was also successful. 

I then went for chemotherapy. In my total journey, I took 21 chemo sessions in 6-8 months, and finally, in Feb 2019, I was fully cured of cancer. Though the whole treatment took only 6-8 months to complete the areas they operated on like my leg, jaw, and face required a considerable amount of time for healing and rehabilitation. It took almost 10-15 months to get myself back in complete shape.

Thoughts during the journey:

Osteosarcoma is one of the rarest types of cancer. There were not many cases of this cancer. I studied cancer a lot. I used to talk with the doctors in medical terms mostly. I took it pretty well. I was raised in a positive atmosphere so I was always told to turn or take my adversities head-on. I never once got the feeling that I will not be able to make it out of cancer. I always had a thought, a voice in me that kept saying I can do this. I was positive that I can beat this cancer and survive the battle. 

Another factor I realized while going through the treatment was that I haven’t lived my life to my expectations yet. There were so many things I wanted to do. I wanted to achieve something in my life and I made sure that cancer cannot be an end to it. The disheartening moment for me was when I was told by the doctors that they will be taking out a part of my jaw and bone from my left leg for the surgery. 

I always used to see my future in the Defense Forces. I asked them straight whether it will be possible for me after surgery and they replied no. At that moment I shed my tears. I couldn’t hold it any longer. My dreams were all shattered. That situation was difficult for me to handle because I was not able to imagine myself in any other profession except defense.

Other symptoms:

I had mild pain in my teeth. Loose teeth and bad breath alerted me that it is time to see a dentist. I also observed a sudden bump in my jaw which scared me. I have never faced any dental issues before, not even a cavity. It was rare and strange. 

Total treatment duration:

It took a total of six months for my treatment, from diagnosis to surgery and chemotherapy sessions. For me, the recovery part was the major part of my journey. I used to do a lot of physical exercises even before cancer started. I have always been positive in my life. My upbringing was done in a very positive atmosphere. At the time of my treatment, I thought of only surviving cancer and beating it completely. During recovery, I faced some issues dealing with the situation. The reason why it happened to me was that at the time of my treatment I never thought of how I will manage everything once I survive cancer, or what I will be doing in my life once it gets cured. I feel that the recovery stage was a real struggle for me.

Side effects:

I had some side effects during my chemotherapy sessions. Many drugs were given to me during my treatment. I had continuous ringing in my ears after surgery but I did not mention this to anyone as I thought it would pass. But as I had the surgery on my face, I was supposed to disclose even the minor symptoms to an ENT specialist. 

When I mentioned this to my doctor, he said it might be happening due to the side effects of the drugs they were giving to me. It is important to inform the doctor even the minute details before it gets too late. If I haven’t informed my doctor about the continuous hearing, I would have lost my hearing ability. My doctors then changed the drugs and it got resolved.

Lifestyle changes:

My diet was pretty normal. I had three meals every day along with one snack. Before I was detected with osteosarcoma, back in my college days, I used to stress about things. During the year 2017-2018, I was always worried about my grades and future. I did not know what to do. I realized stress plays a very crucial role in triggering our body. I can now manage my stress level at a more optimum level than before. After my treatment and recovery, I stopped stressing about things that don’t matter much. This was a major change that happened in my life. I also have a proper sleeping routine now compared to my college life. I stick to my daily routine and always eat healthy foods.

Parting message:

I believe we all should take a moment to be thankful and appreciate what we have in our life. We think we do not have much but there are people out there who might be having the same problems with very few privileges and resources compared to what we have. One must try to find the ‘luck’ even in unfortunate times. 

While going through treatment, be it cancer, kidney dialysis, or any other surgery, the patient goes through a lot of physical and mental agony. At the same time, the caregiver also undergoes a lot of tension, pressure, and changes with the patients. They take care of the patients without any selfishness. They try so hard to keep the patients as motivated as they can. I think being a caregiver is a very brave and big challenge for a person who is willing to take care of the patient at the very moment when the patient is down in life. So if we overreact, they go down drastically. Our actions can affect them directly. So the patient should control their reactions and think before acting. 

Another important thing I learned during my journey is that we should always think about things or situations in our life before jumping to conclusions. It will take time but it will surely result in a less chaotic life. No matter whatever we do in our life, we should always be humble and grateful for what we have in our lives today. 

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