Manmohan Taneja (Head & neck cancer): “Live life everyday.”

A strong cancer Fighter

My mantras in life have also changed. I recently heard of a very millennial term called YOLO, someone told me it means you only live once. I tweaked this to YODO, you only die once! I use this as a motivational mantra; why kill yourself every day over something that makes you unhappy, instead, do what makes you happy and live life every day.

It all started with some mild discomfort in my throat, the kind you get when you have a cold. So my first response was obviously some cold medication and antibiotics prescribed by my doctor. A week or so later, I had finished all my medication but my throat wasn’t getting any better. I was still experiencing uncomfortable pain while swallowing food. This is when my local GP referred me to an ENT. I went to the ENT for what seemed like just another monsoon infection, but what came next shocked me.

The ENT sent me rushing to get an MRI and a CT scan because she suspected a massive tumor in my throat. The scans confirmed my ENT’s worst fears; I had a tumor in the neck region next to my voice box. That day, after the diagnosis, I didn’t go back home, I just didn’t have the courage to face my family. Instead, I remember going straight to the bar. I figured that I should down all my fear once and for all with some alcohol. After I was done drinking for a few hours, I called my wife and family and told them about my test results. I felt like running away, but they all came to the bar and told me that we would deal with it together and took me home. That was probably the scariest day of my life; it was the day I wasn’t sure whether I would survive stage 4 cancer.

Dr. Sultan Pradhan at the Prince Ali Khan hospital in Mumbai took on my case and I was operated upon three days after my diagnosis. The first surgery was a laser procedure to take out the tumor and the second one — conducted within weeks of the first — was to remove the infected lymph nodes. The next step was aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. Usually, one radiation session lasts for just 2 or 3 minutes, but since my cancer was aggressive, I would undergo 22 minutes in one sitting. The skin around my neck had turned black because of the radiation and I had lost all sense of taste during those months. If you gave me salty tea, I’d happily have it! The radiation and chemo took a toll on my health and I’d lost 22 kilos in the process.

My chemo days were also hard on my family, especially my wife and daughter. On days, I’d drive myself to the hospital for chemotherapy sessions. I’d also made myself in charge of uplifting their morale because I didn’t want them to suffer emotionally like I did. There were days when I knew I was getting better physically, but I would still find myself grappling with a deep sense of hopelessness.It was my family and friends that really helped me come out of that feeling.

My chemo and radiation sessions ended in Oct 2013 and I was under observation for 5 years. Today, I am told I’m in remission and cancer-free. I still have regular follow-ups with my doctors, but I am mostly alright.

I survived stage 4 cancer in the neck and I often think that there has to be a reason for this! There has to be a reason why I survived, no?

Early on in my life, I thought material success was the only thing that mattered. But after having survived this, I think it doesn’t really matter how successful you are in life, what really matters is how you help people. Which is why 2 years ago, I opened a de-addiction center with a friend of mine in Khandala.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain running it, but through the course of two years, we helped about 50 people cope with their addiction. I consider this to be one of my biggest achievements, bigger than being the CEO of a company in my 40s.

My mantras in life have also changed. I recently heard of a very millennial term called YOLO, someone told me it means you only live once. I tweaked this to YODO, you only die once! I use this as a motivational mantra; why kill yourself every day over something that makes you unhappy, instead, do what makes you happy and live life every day.

Manmohan Taneja is now 52 and is a practicing life and business coach.