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Ekta Arora (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia): I Am a Free Soul

Ekta Arora (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia): I Am a Free Soul

In 2017, I was an MBA student, and during my second semester, I started having a severe headache regularly. The doctor said that it could be a migraine, and even with that thought, I could not stop crying for three days.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Diagnosis

15-20 days passed by, and I was under the impression that it was a migraine. I completed my second semester and came back home during my vacation.

When I was in my hometown, my father was adamant about getting me rechecked. He took me to the hospital and got me checked, and the results showed that my White Blood Cell count was very high. The doctor said that there could be something wrong, and the high WBC counts could be because of that.

After so many tests, the doctor asked me to go for a CT scan and bone marrow test. Later, I came to Ahmedabad, where I was finally diagnosed with Ph+ Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a type of Blood Cancer. But even after one week of the diagnosis, I was not aware that I had cancer.

No one expected that a check-up for a headache would end up with a cancer diagnosis. In hindsight, it was pure luck that my dad pressured me into going for the check-up. I resisted I did not want to go because I had to go to my college and get my internship started in just ten days.

Our entire life went haywire when I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. When my father got to know that I had cancer, he asked me what I wanted to eat, and I said that I wanted to eat Maggie. He funnily laughed and got me what I asked for. He didn't tell me that it was cancer; the doctors told me that what I had was a type of cancer named Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The doctor said you could have cancer, and the first thought that came to my mind was, "Can I not go back to my college? That was quite shocking for my parents that I was so career-ambitious.

I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when I was just 22 years old. I was supposed to go for my two-month internship, which was in Bangalore. But due to the diagnosis, all my plans went down the drain, and I informed the college committee that I would not be able to go for an internship, and they were very supportive.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment

We went to several doctors in our network, and from that, we went to a private hospital, but the environment and the questions we were asked were disturbing for us. My father was not satisfied with the environment we were in. After consulting various oncologists, we found another hospital that would best suit us and not let us fall into an economic burden.

I started my treatment in the new hospital, and the doctors there were very supportive. I had a severe headache and could not sleep for 60 days due to the Pain. The doctors were not able to find out what I was going through. They thought it was the side effect of Chemotherapy and the dosage I was taking, but nobody could determine the exact issue.

The problem was in my neck, and the MRI, CT scan, and all other tests were meant to find out the issue in the neck. When I consulted a neurosurgeon, we finally found out that it was a sinus problem. From that point, I was dealing with two diseases; one was sinus, and the other was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Both the treatments went side by side, due to which my Cancer Treatment also got delayed by six months.

The treatment process took a long time; the medications that I was taking did not suit me. There were many complications with the medicines and everything, but the doctors were kind enough, and there was no issue from their side.

It was quite painful for the first month. I lived 150 km away from Ahmedabad, so the first two or three months were tiring for my parents and me because we had to go up and down from my native to Ahmedabad. It was very tiring and frustrating. Traveling caused mental trauma because we had to travel six hours a day, and since I was on a heavy dose of chemotherapy, I used to puke a lot. It was too hectic for us. We were worried about managing the funds for the treatment if we shut down everything in Ahmedabad.

My father stayed in Palanpur because of his business, and my entire family shifted to Ahmedabad. My best friend helped us find a new home. My brother left his job. My whole family used to stay at home. We are four siblings. My mother used to stay at the hospital. My sister had finished her graduation, but instead of joining a company, she became my full-time caregiver. Even though three years younger than me, she took care of my every need, from bathing to taking care of my medicines. My younger brother and father managed to stay in Palanpur, doing household chores, and cooking independently.

My parents never expressed what they were going through. My mother lost a massive amount of weight in the first two months. She didn't cry in front of me. Financially, it was somewhat constraining, and there came a situation when the doctors asked for a bone marrow transplant that required a huge amount of money. We were worried about how we would arrange that much money.

I am a foodie, but I could not eat anything due to certain dietary restrictions I had to follow. My entire cancer journey focused on what I could eat because I had so many problems with the food I was consuming; therefore, I primarily focused on having good food. Due to my disease, my mother was also unable to eat.

Initially, whenever I visited the doctors, I was always bombarding them with the question, 'When will I be able to go to my college and do the regular stuff?' The doctor never used to answer directly; he just used to say, 'Focus on your health right now, and don't worry about education.'

I paused college when I realized how serious things were and stopped asking questions after a few months. My college was very supportive; they helped me in every way they could. I took a one-year pause, and after that year, I returned to complete my graduation and earned my degree. I am an MBA graduate now.

I had six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 21 sessions of radiotherapy. My treatment ended in December 2018. It's been two and a half years, and I am now in the maintenance phase. I still have daily medications to take, and there is one more medication dose that I will have to take in the long run. We have been in Ahmedabad since the treatment began, and we have not moved back after the treatment ended.

My family has been incredibly supportive. I had lost hope along the journey, and I was overwhelmed by what I was going through, but the caregivers' support plays a huge role in helping cancer patients recover.

I am currently working with an NGO that strives to create inclusive societies and operates in various sectors, including education, health, and sanitation.

Stranger that inspired me

I remember a time when two other cancer patients were sitting beside me. I was dealing with a headache, and they came over to ask what type of cancer I had and what problems I was facing. One of them was named Dolly, and she inspired me in a way that nobody else could.

I got motivated when she shared her journey, and her experiences, and then when I came to know she was alright now. It had been two and a half years after her diagnosis. She had her hair back, and she was doing well. That talk that I had with her inspired me to realize that my pain was nothing in front of what she had suffered. Talking to her helped me a lot.

I have visited 2-3 patients after my recovery because I know how much a survivor can motivate someone on his/her cancer journey.

I am a free soul

I am a free soul; I have never taken my life seriously. I never thought that consuming junk food would trouble me; I thought it was my age to enjoy everything in life. During cancer, I had to follow what my doctors suggested. My parents made sure that they gave me healthy food even when I craved a particular food.

I now make sure that I consume things that are supplemented in one way or another. I maintain a regular healthy diet, but I eat food that I love on cheat days. I take life as it comes.

In October, I was at a point in life where I was grateful for the experiences I had. There was a time when I felt that this was something different that I had experienced. Certain phases are dull, but as humans, we are full of emotions; we don't need to fight emotions; we just need to accept them and move on.

Right now, I am recovered; I got my hair back. It has been more than three years. It's been a rollercoaster journey, but I have learned many new things. I am now doing my usual chores, and even though my immunity is not that great, I don't feel any less than I was before.

Parting Message

My best wishes are always with you. During your cancer journey, if you ever want to meet or connect with me, I would be glad to share my feelings and ease your pain.

A lot of people say that positivity works, but in my opinion, what cancer patients want to hear is, 'It's okay if you feel low, but tell me how I can help you feel better. If you feel negative or low, you can ask me for help, and I will try to do everything possible.

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