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Harteij Bhartesh (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma): Let’s Make Fighting Cancer Cool

Harteij Bhartesh (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma): Let’s Make Fighting Cancer Cool

Hodgkin's Lymphoma Diagnosis

It all started when I noticed a bit of swelling on the right side of my neck. I underwent some tests, including FNAC. In 2013, I visited my brother who lived in Hyderabad, and we concluded that the lump had turned into swelling and had not healed over the given timeframe. We decided to have a proper investigation this time. We went to a general physician, and her first question was, "How long have you had it?" I answered that it had been two years since I had noticed the lump. Her immediate suggestion was to see an oncologist. When the test results came back from the biopsy, it was diagnosed as stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma (cancer of the immune system).

I was in the 4th year of college when I was faced with two options: chemotherapy or alternative medicines. I thought, "If I start my chemotherapy now, then I will not be able to attend college and complete my education." So, I decided to delay my chemotherapy treatment and take alternative medicines instead.

Also Read: What is NAC

Decisions that hurt

In 2014, I completed my graduation and went to Hyderabad to see how alternative medicines were working. I underwent a PET scan and found out that the Hodgkin's Lymphoma had progressed to its final stage. I was not shocked. I knew that this could happen if I delayed my chemotherapy, but if there was an alternative that didn't cause pain, why not opt for that?

I moved to Bangalore for my post-graduation and had a bone marrow test done. We discovered that my bone marrow and every other organ were affected by cancer. It had spread all over my body, leaving me with no choice but to opt for chemotherapy. Winning or losing was secondary, but at least I could try.

The long battle

I wanted to live close to my family, so I returned to Hyderabad, where I found an excellent doctor for my treatment. I started my therapy under his care, and he told me very frankly from the beginning that I only had a 5% chance of survival. His direct answer gave me a different perspective and a better approach to the fight.

I underwent six chemotherapy cycles; I remember the first one lasted 5 hours, and afterward, I suddenly felt pain in my stomach. It was something I had never experienced before. I knew it was from the chemotherapy. The next day my hair started falling out. I didn't want to see myself bald, so I took a trimmer and trimmed my hair. I won’t say it didn’t hurt; it did. But that’s a part of the therapy; you have to deal with it.

Allies that were stronger than medicines

No one in my family had a history of cancer; we only knew what it was and just had a gist of it. Usually, when someone hears the word 'cancer,' they probably think of death. Although I never gave much thought to the whole life and death scenario, I was very concerned about my studies and looks. These were the concerns of a 23-year-old man whose life was hanging by a cliff. He wasn’t naive, just young.

My greatest support was my family; they are the real heroes, fighting alongside us. We go through the pain together, but cancer does not affect just one person; in some way, everyone was a bit concerned by it. My family had an efficient approach, which allowed us to face the situation head-on rather than cry over it. But no matter what we say, when a family sees their loved one suffering from side effects, they feel the fear of losing them at that moment. They go through a lot of stress, maybe even more than the patient; this is why I believe that a family needs to be stronger than the patients.

An idea

During my treatment, I often thought about how people took care of me and fulfilled my emergency needs. However, others don't have anyone to help them or the money to meet their blood requirements. Although I had access to the blood I needed, it still wasn't enough. So, I would often find myself thinking that if I got cured, I would do something for other cancer patients because I felt privileged; not everyone is.

I completed my treatment in 2014; I was doing yoga and exercise to regain my immunity, and just like that, time went by. I went to Pune for a job. During interview sessions, many people told me that since I had cancer, I wouldn't be able to handle the job and the pressure that comes with it. It pissed me off; I would reply, 'Thank you for your time, sir, I will move out.' Then, I would go into the hallway and call my dad to ask him for some money because I wanted to do something for cancer patients. We had already had conversations about this before, but we never took any action, nor did we know how to proceed.

I returned to Raipur and started reaching out to people; all of them were dead ends. Then my brother stepped in; he told me he would take care of anything I needed as it was my first campaign. He had some friends who were interested in helping. After a while, I connected with a guy named Aditya Ramachandran, who belongs to a newsgroup. He helped me to reach out to local people and local cancer hospitals.

New beginnings

On 1 May, I started my campaign, which involved riding through 15 states and 22 cities over five and a half months, covering 30,000 km. Strangers reached out to me via the internet to offer their help. They would read articles about my journey, feel motivated, and just wanted to help in any way they could. I feel lucky to live in a country where you don't need to be a celebrity to influence a campaign; you just need to start doing something right, and people will come forward to help.

Since then, everything has been profitable; I met a lot of celebrities and other influential people. I started a group named Riders of Hope, where we arrange blood for all the people in need across the country. Because the campaign was spread throughout the country, I connected with many people, including many blood donor groups.

I finally got my cancer foundation registered on 1 April, the best birthday gift I ever received. Due to the lockdown, we haven't been able to launch it fully, but we are still doing some good by distributing sanitizers and masks.

Parting message

In the end, I would recommend you to stop worrying; there are a lot of better options now. Just remember the heroes who helped you during your tough time so that you can be one to those who are fighting now. Spread positivity so that everyone around you remains happy. Take it one moment at a time. Make cancer-fighting cool, you will have some bad days, but that is part of it. Try to make those bad days cool; some days will be better than the others, some won't; stop worrying too much, and enjoy everything as it comes.

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