I used to smoke and drink with friends since my college days, but I never thought I would have throat cancer. I had friends who used to smoke and drink more than me, and I thought I would quit smoking and drinking if cancer catches up with any of them.
In 2014, I started losing weight, my voice became hoarse, and I had pain while swallowing and breathing. At the bottom of my heart, I felt that there was something miserably wrong. I did not even want to think that it would be cancer. I still kept smoking. I was so addicted to it. I went to a local doctor who kept changing antibiotics and saying that I will be fine.
One day, scared and miserable, I went to my mom’s place and told her I could not sleep.
When my mother heard me breathing that night, she took me to the hospital. I had my last cigarette while parking my car at the hospital. I was a slave to my addiction. The doctor’s performed an endoscopy and found a big lump on my right larynx (Vocal cord). They immediately got me admitted, performed a biopsy, and confirmed it to be a stage IV throat cancer. My world shattered. Anagha & my family started to look for treatment options. Anagha finally was able to get me over to the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus (US). Meanwhile, the cancer was doing its job, spreading as only cancer can.
After reaching the James Cancer, I was scanned again. The doctor’s there told me that it was difficult for me to survive over a month as throat cancer, which is already diagnosed in its last stage, has now spread over to my spine & there was nothing much that they could do. How much I wished that if life could have the reverse gear, I would go back in time and correct my mistakes. Why should my family suffer from my mistakes? The doctors planned to try aggressive chemotherapy. I had a tracheostomy tube in my throat to breath, a peg/feeding tube in my nose & stomach, IV’s in my arm. I was all prepared for the big battle.
Fortunately, my body started responding to the chemo. A month turned to two, four, and I was alive fighting the demon. Meanwhile, I kept reading a lot of books and kept researching my enemy, my cancer, so that I could get smarter. I was doing much better.
I was scanned again, and they still found some traces of cancer. I was given a choice to either remove my vocal cord (which they preferred, but I would never be able to talk again) or continue with chemo and radiations together. I choose the latter as I was confident by now that I will beat my cancer for sure. I wanted to talk again. That worked for me. “Cancer started the fight, and I finished it!”
What cancer taught me:
Cancer changed me forever. Even though I may be considered technically cancer-free after five years of treatment, I have lost a lot. I lost all my teeth due to radiation. I have 12 implants in my mouth. I have permanent hypertension, tinnitus (the ringing in the ears) that has no cure yet. My thyroids are damaged, and I am on lifelong medication for them. My brain does not communicate properly with my legs, so I am unable to run, as I have a constant fear of falling. These are some losses, to name a few.
What did I win…? I won back my life!! Cancer taught me always to be positive and optimistic. It made me realize that there are so many small things in life that you never think of and miss enjoying. Like, eating ice cream or just taking a shower. You cannot do this when you have a tube in your throat. You learn to appreciate small things when you miss them. Cancer made me realize how important each day is and how to enjoy little things. Cancer taught me to live life today! My life after cancer is the best. I started working hard, got good jobs. I bought a house, car, learned to fly a plane, travel to different places, enjoy nature, and spend time with my family. Never knew before that life could be so beautiful.
Spreading Awareness about Smoking & Cancer:
I go to schools, colleges & other institutions sharing my story. I try to spread awareness about the ill effects of smoking and other bad habits. I tell people, especially youngsters, that I am lucky to have survived, all do not. My Facebook group, ‘Youngster’s against smoking,’ has over 4000 members who raise awareness against smoking and counsel people who want to quit. I also administer a cancer support group and actively participate in spreading awareness on cancer and trying to help and motivate fellow fighters to get through.
Trust in yourself, believe in God, and miracles happen. After throat cancer, people started calling me a miracle man because no one knows how I was able to survive. Focus on one day at a time. People need to get educated about cancer, it doesn’t spread by touching, and it’s not contagious. It is still considered taboo so help spread awareness about it. Ask your questions to your doctor and be aware of your treatment.
Enjoy today to the fullest. Don’t wait for an occasion; create an occasion. Make a list and start doing the things you love because you should not regret later for anything. Always believe in giving.