Zuvius: What were the circumstances that made you decide to go for a check-up?
Prateek: April 20, 1998- It was my nineteenth birthday and I woke up with a slight pain in my left testicle. I have had this pain for the last few years since a ball had hit me there while playing cricket with my friends. The pain had not been consistent and never been intense. I had ignored it mostly. I never thought of mentioning it to anyone, either. In the evening, I went out and partied with my close friends. I had turned nineteen, was in perfect health with a good physique, for I had been religiously visiting a gym for the past year. I was enjoying my carefree college days. Life had been generally good to me.
April 21, 1998- The day started with an acute pain. I finally told my mom. My grandfather worked in the Military Hospital. I went to see him. He further referred me to another doctor immediately.
Zuvius: What was your immediate response on learning you had cancer.
Prateek: My mind went blank. I kind of switched to autopilot. I think the gravity of the situation didn’t sink in till my first chemotherapy which was done on the second day after my first surgery. I was operated upon for the first time on 23rd April, 1998. Everything had happened too quickly. Everything was a blur.
Zuvius: How did you decide which hospital/doctor you should go to for further treatment?
Prateek: After being operated upon and given the first chemotherapy at Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, New Delhi, I was referred to Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Bombay for further treatment.
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Zuvius: When you were diagnosed with cancer who was most devastated by the news?
Prateek: My father was on a business tour at that time. My mom was deeply affected with the news. She had heard only dreadful things about cancer and she was gravely worried about her teenage son.
Zuvius: Can you tell us what kind of cancer you had and what was the procedure of treatment prescribed?
Prateek: It was diagnosed as Malignant Testicular Teratoma. Surgeries, to remove the nodules, and chemotherapies were prescribed. I underwent two surgeries (one to remove the left testicle and another to remove a node from the right lung), and 2 VIP regime chemotherapies and 4 cycles of regular chemotherapies.
Zuvius: What were the physical changes seen in yourself, in your daily life and how did you cope with those.
Prateek: I was a robust 19-year old teenager. The chemotherapy left me very weak physically. I lost all the hair on my body. I would feel nauseated all the time. I completely lost my appetite.
I kept myself busy. I would play video games and watch movies. My friends often visited me and spent time with me. All this kept my mind distracted.
Zuvius: Who and what kept your spirit up, gave you the strength and confidence to go through this difficult phase of treatment without losing hope.
Prateek: I had the complete support of my family and friends. Dr. Advani, Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, whom I was consulting, was very encouraging and inspiring. He made my cancer seem inconsequential. All that support and hope, coupled with my strong will-power and fighting spirit, kept me going.
Zuvius: Can you remember when you felt totally helpless during your cancer days?
Prateek: I am the eldest son. I have two younger brothers. During one of my chemotherapy days, my youngest brother got caught in a squabble and I couldn’t go out to help him, as I usually did, because I had become physically very weak and was greatly prone to infections as the immune system had taken a bad beating. I had felt very helpless, in those few moments, about my condition.
Zuvius: What did you learn about your friends and family during this difficult period of fighting cancer?
Prateek: While I was undergoing the treatment, my family worked like a team, especially my parents. My father is a businessman. He would go on his tours to collect money that his customers owed him, while my mom would take me for my surgeries and chemotherapies. I lived in Agra at that time. I had one of my surgeries and chemotherapies in Delhi. The second surgery was carried out in Bombay. Rest of the chemotherapies, I received at Gwalior.
Up until then, my mom had been “just a simple housewife”. In those days, she took me everywhere alone. She was initially deeply worried about the disease that had this life-threatening tag attached to it. But she found the fortitude that only a mother can for her child. She managed home. She managed her two other sons. She managed my medication, my therapies, and my surgeries, alone. My father could not be with us physically because he needed to make large sum of money available for my treatment. So, most of the times, he was on tour. Apart from my own strong will to survive, it was my parents’, my family’s determination that pulled me through.
Zuvius: What is the first thing you decided to do after you were declared cancer free?
Prateek: I was diagnosed with cancer on 21st April, 1998. I was declared cancer free on 28th October, 1998. Those six months are a blur now. I think I was blessed that it was all over in such a short span.
I simply went back to my life after it was all over.
Zuvius: Did having cancer change your perspective on life, things around you?
Prateek: Cancer made me realise my own inner strength. And the support and love, that I enjoyed, of my family and friends.
Zuvius: Did it affect the lives of people around you? If so how?
Prateek: It certainly affected my family. It was a harrowing experience for my mom to almost lose her 19-year old son. My brothers, 16-year old and 17-year old, got neglected in those months, at a crucial age. They went through the trauma of seeing their elder brother suffer. My father stayed on perpetual tours in those six months, to earn enough money for my treatment which was pretty expensive. But we pulled through.
Zuvius: What is the most important lesson that cancer taught you?
Prateek: If you have a strong will to survive, if you keep the faith, if you maintain hope, if you fight back, any obstacle, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, can be overcome. Any obstacle.
Zuvius: What were your conceptions about cancer before and after the treatment?
Prateek: Before I was diagnosed and subsequently cured of cancer, I had the same prevalent notion that cancer was one of the most severe life-threatening diseases. That people die of cancer, most likely because it is difficult to be cured. There were low chances of surviving cancer.
And I realised how grave a misconception it is. Cancer is perfectly curable. Not all kinds of cancer are a danger to life. What matters more is at what stage it is diagnosed in a person. What matters is what kind of cancer it is. What matters is being careful about personal health and to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you.
What matters is to never lose hope, to keep fighting, to never give up.
Zuvius: How important life is to you now that you’ve come out of this ordeal?
Prateek: I was fortunate that my ordeal lasted only six months. I value it more now. But life goes on, no matter what.
Zuvius: If asked to say something to motivate cancer victims what would you say?
Prateek: No matter what it takes, keep that faith and hope alive. Cultivate the inner strength. Interact with people in similar situations. Interact with people you think you can find courage from. Join Support groups. Reach out. Reach within. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Fight back with all the vigour you have inside you, and then some more. You live only once. Make it worth the while.