Voice up, Scope Up, Save A Life
This is a joint post between myself and my hubby Vivek as we celebrate our 25th year of friendship, love, and wedded bliss. It’s not a typical anniversary lovey-dovey Ruchi post but it does touch on a personal and emotional level. It’s a reminder that we can plan all we want but sometimes life has a way of changing that trajectory and sending you on an alternate path. That path may not always be the one we would have chosen, but it does have a way of making us stronger. Our lives are a collection of stories, each one woven beautifully to create our very own bestseller.
We added a new chapter to our very own bestseller on December 9th, 2020. This chapter has just begun and is a work in progress and for now, will remain nameless. So here are the first few paragraphs of this new chapter.
Vivek (VK): December 9th, 2020, I remember the words, “You have a large tumor in your colon and it’s
presenting as a classic apple core which means it is probably cancerous and we are admitting you and scheduling you for emergency surgery”.
Shocking words to hear, made stranger by the reference to a fruit that is supposed to keep the doctor away. That 45-second conversation with the ER doc quickly snowballed in my head. I barely remember the call I made to my wife Ruchi, although I do recall the slight hesitation before I repeated the words I had just heard. 36 hours later emergency surgery followed with the report that confirmed the diagnosis; stage III colon cancer.
Wait, what? Stage III colon cancer! I don’t understand. It makes no sense. It’s been growing in my colon for several years (according to the docs probably more than 8 years) and I had no idea. No concept that such a thing was even in the realm of possibility. “You are the fittest and the healthiest guy I know” is what I am used to hearing. I try to not show off my average resting heart rate of 42 beats per min, fine-tuned by decades of squash training and match play. OK, fine, maybe I’ve mentioned this up a couple of times inadvertently to friends. So how could this happen to me? These questions quickly morphed into the realization that I truly am lucky to have caught it when we did. I’m 48 so I probably would not have had a colonoscopy until well past the age of 50. At that point, it more than likely would have been a very different situation and outcome.
We are blessed to have access to the A-team of doctors from Dr. Gautam Kedia( Cardiologist), Dr. Yatin Patel (Gastroenterologist), Dr. Kris Venkatesh (Surgeon) to Dr. Kalmadi (Oncologist) who quickly came together and the outcome has been and continues to be as good as we could have hoped for. The tumor has been completely removed, however, there is spread to the lymph nodes and the upcoming 6 months of chemo will help ensure that there is no reoccurrence.
It was a tough week in the hospital post-surgery but I had some of the best support I could ask for. I have lost over 12lbs but am healing daily and 17 days after surgery I even managed to get back on the pickleball court with my kids. I would have loved to be on a squash court of course, but with Covid, that is not an option currently. I am keeping my eye on the prize which is my promise to celebrate our 50th anniversary with Ruchi and our kiddos and their families ( I can picture the eye roll right about now). This journey is so much bigger than just me, and like I told them the other night – WE GOT THIS..TOGETHER!
Ruchi (RGK): I remember the moment I got the call from Vivek (Jaan) with the news four hours after I dropped him off at the ER with really bad abdominal pain. My first thought was “is he joking” and I even asked him if he was kidding. We had thought maybe an ulcer or a hernia but never cancer. It took me a few seconds to realize that he wasn’t. Before I could even allow my emotions to envelope my thoughts, I realized I had to spring into action and ask “okay, so how do we get rid of this tumor and what’s next”. My first task was to break the news to our somewhat adult kids and manage their emotions and reactions. What followed was days of confused brain cells like “what does this jargon mean”. I remember asking my GI cousin in Australia and radiologist cousin (who ironically specializes in colon cancer) in New Zealand to explain in non-medical terms what these docs were telling us. We as a family have quickly tried to educate ourselves on this and are handling it as well as we can and also have kept our family and close friends updated on this new chapter. Whilst Vivek was in the hospital, we as a family started our verbal nightly sessions of “3 things we are grateful for” and staying on the path of positivity. It’s been our way of ending each day by focusing on the blessings and gratitude in our life even amidst the chaos. 36 hours after surgery we even had a Friday night happy hour with the best cocktails in town (see our choices below). I feel so blessed to have had both Riya and Eshan at home who have been such pillars of support and who I have seen grow up years in a matter of days. All I know is our love will conquer this since I am (we are) giving him no other choice or option.
VK/RGK: One of the biggest lessons that came out of this for us was that detection is the best prevention and that colorectal cancer is highly preventable. Unfortunately, screening for colon cancer begins at the age of 50 in most states. In Vivek’s case, the cancer was detected at the age of 48 and had more than likely been growing for the last 6-8 years. Luckily for us, he had symptoms and we caught it in time as he still isn’t at the official age for an official colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are the number one way for early detection when the disease is most treatable. CRC often begins to develop without symptoms, which is why screening is critical. Colorectal Cancer Alliance encourages everyone to follow the recommended screening guidelines.
According to the National Colorectal National Roundtable, Colorectal cancer is diagnosed in nearly 150,000 people every year and affects women and men equally. While approximately 90% of CRC cases occur in people over the age of 50, the number of new cases has been increasing among adults under the age of 50. Early-age onset CRC is colorectal cancer diagnosed in a patient younger than age 50 (like Vivek). It is no longer a disease that only affects older populations. Young adults are overlooked as screening doesn’t typically begin until the age of 45 or 50. The American Cancer Society recommends average-risk people start screening at age 45.
Cancer has no face, and it does not discriminate. It affects people of all sexuality, ages, social statuses, races, backgrounds, and lifestyles. Our family picture/video which was taken just two weeks before the diagnosis is proof of that. We have a mostly vegetarian diet with a very active, and healthy lifestyle.
Our voices have power and can save lives and by sharing our story we are hoping to do just that. So Vivek and I are opening up and sharing our story to encourage conversations with your health care professional if you have any questions, concerns, symptoms, or are 45 or older. Since Vivek’s diagnosis, we personally know over 20 people that have scheduled appointments with their doctors for consults or for a colonoscopy.
We are so thankful for the nonstop support of daily texts, phone calls, food drop-offs, flowers, love, prayers, and most of all blessings we have been getting from family and friends from around the world. All of these cheerleaders have been the wind beneath our wings.
Our anniversary message to all of you is the gift of awareness of a disease that is detectable, preventable, and beatable. (This post is not in any way about giving anyone any medical advice as neither one of us is a medical professional, we are just sharing our story in hopes to create awareness).
Every year teaches us how to be stronger and somewhat wiser. It also reminds us to count our blessings for each and every moment we spend creating memories for a richer tomorrow. We learn to accept what we cannot change and embrace the unknowns that are yet to come our way. Create a beautiful 2021 for yourself and your loved ones as that power truly lies within each one of us. Happy New Year and wishing all of you and your loved ones a blessed 2021 – RGK
(On a side note.. this was my new year message for 2020 but it seemed so apt I decided to recycle my thought).