Pramod didn’t have any symptoms other than a little fatigue when he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. He takes a daily medication to manage his cancer and tries to stay positive so he can share his strength with others diagnosed with CML.
In 2002 a medical worker came for an in-home visit because there was a case of Dengue fever in the building. I was feeling tired, so I thought that I get myself medically examined. My mom was a nurse as is my wife, so I have great respect for what they know. I followed their advice and went to the doctor.
The doctor did blood and urine tests to understand why I was tired. The reports showed that I had an infection, so he gave me medication for jaundice, and told me to repeat the tests in a few days. When I did, the jaundice was gone, but my blood cell counts were still not normal, so I continued taking medication. I went back a week later, and the doctor did further tests. He said he suspected I had leukemia. My wife was due to deliver our second child, so I kept this news to myself, but it was a devastating blow. I got anxious about what the new tests might show.
While we were at the hospital for the delivery, my wife’s colleague encouraged me to get additional testing. He also recommended the same specialist the first doctor mentioned. I went with an uncle to the specialist while my wife and family were busy with the newborn. He suggested doing a bone marrow biopsy. I worried about the cost, but was prepared to do it. Then I brought two tubes of bone marrow to two different hospitals and waited for the reports.
Congratulations, You Have Cancer
The doctor broke the news to me in a good way, which made it simple. He shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, you have one of the good cancers.” He explained that it’s like having diabetes; just as diabetics need insulin every day, I’d need to take medication for chronic myeloid leukemia every day, but I’d be fine. Some people learn the hard way, but since he shook my hand and said it was a good cancer, it made it easy to accept.
When I told my wife and parents about my cancer, they started running about crying. The
uncle who came with me for the appointment talked to the family, and said if they were going to cry, it would be tough for me. He said I couldn’t pull myself together if they didn’t, and since then, I have never seen them cry. I am not afraid of death, never was, but I did have some fear that I wouldn’t be there for my family. But when that fear came, I switched it around; things happen, God has a plan.
The cure for CML is a bone marrow transplant, but it has its limitations and is not without risks, so why try it if the medication works? The original medication, Glivec, cost 125,000 rupees a month. I couldn’t afford that, so started taking the generic version. The side effects were severe pain in my calves, but new blood tests showed that the disease was under control.
Then I learned that Novartis had a relationship with The Max Foundation for distribution of the medication at low cost, and they had a program in India. So, I got in touch and got approved to be part of the patient assistance program for Glivec. It has some side effects, like muscle cramps and water retention, and after years of taking it, it can make you fairer. But it’s much better than the generic. I reduced my other medications as much as possible, since this is such strong medicine and I didn’t want other drugs to interfere with it.
At church people have a chance to speak to the congregation. I stood up in front of 300 people and told my story and they burst into tears. I told them, don’t pity me, but don’t talk about me behind my back either. A lot of people go through trauma; this is what it is. I also shared my story in my office, and since then, if someone were diagnosed with cancer, the HR department would connect me to that person.
Strength from Others
No one is going to look at me and say, “Oh, he has cancer.” I am always smiling and happy. When I speak with a newly diagnosed patient, their first question is “how much longer will I have”; I tell them there is life beyond cancer, some people have been fine on this medication for 15–18 years. People are born, people die, cancer doesn’t change that.
Once I retire, I’d like to be more involved with a couple of church NGOs to help kids, something like that. Through the local Max Foundation organization, a group called Friends of Max, we started doing a fundraiser called Chai for Cancer, which collects more for the foundation. I stay totally engaged at work and with the foundation, so I don’t brood about the cancer. As long as the medication is working, why second guess things? CML taught me to say positive things, which might be helpful to others, like sending a “good morning” message on WhatsApp.
One day at a time is key. My cultural upbringing is that God has a plan and wants us to deal with these things; I never questioned it. That gave me the most strength, to understand that trials are a part of life. My life didn’t really change; I eat and exercise like before, but it made me more confident and more open. But that is not my achievement; it is from the prayers and blessings of those around me that I have found the strength to get through this. It helped me to think differently.