Dubai-based Cancer Thriver Anand Soni underwent autologous stem cell transplant for cancer after he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in Dec 2012. As part of the treatment, he was required to stay in isolation in a four-wall room for 37 days, when he was completely cut off from the world. What did he learn during the isolation after stem cell transplant?
The traumatic cancer journey
Doctors describe an autologous stem cell transplant as one of the world’s most difficult medical processes. The transplant makes it possible to use higher doses of chemotherapy and radiation to treat the cancer. While the higher doses kill the cancer cells, they also severely damage the bone marrow where new cells are formed.
So in the weeks before the treatment, doctors collect the patient’s own stem cells, freeze and store it several times. These stem cells are then released back into the blood intravenously, to restore the bone marrow. During stem cell transplant for cancer, there is a great risk of infection, which is why a period of isolation is crucial. For me, the 37-day isolation period after the stem cell transplant was the most difficult part of the journey.
Imprisoned inside the four-walls
I sat inside the BMT Isolation room, feeling lonely and disconnected. The tiny window was my only connection to the outside world. I watched people running on the road outside, laughing, hugging, enjoying, smiling, celebrating festivals and life.
It brought a smile and it also reminded me of my helplessness. I wondered if I would be able to ever exit theis room or would I simply die there.? The isolation period during the stem cell transplant for cancer was indeed pregnant with all these possibilities.
I longed to breathe the fresh air and see the blue sky. I was waiting to walk again on those roads. How I wished I could be happy again, celebrate life and live my life to the fullest. I wanted to live like I had never lived in the first 44 years of my life before cancer.
The other major event of my isolation was my interaction from a small window with my son (& second cheerleader) Rohan, before he was left for Dubai. I cried like a baby when he came to wish me goodbye. I told him, “Go ahead, my son. Live life to fullest and conquer the world. The world is waiting for you.”
How the isolation after stem cell transplant for cancer transformed me
In the same way that fire purifies gold, cancer made me stronger. Those 37 days, changed me decisively and completely.
I learnt the following lessons:
1) Have an extreme intensity to live.
2) Love life every day, every minute, every second.
3) Celebrate every moment, celebrate every occasion, celebrate festivals, celebrate life.
4) Get involved in everything in life, take risks and go for adventures.
5) One cannot live life as a protocol.
6) Do your best and completely surrender yourself to the Almighty. If God does not approve, you cannot even get up from a chair, even if you try a million times.
7) Live fearlessly, with courage and self-belief. Self-belief is critical in managing isolation and no one can take it away from you.
8) I realized that the world is full of good and exciting people.
Cancer taught me that sheer desperation, utter despair and total helplessness can bring out the best in the person. What began as a deeply traumatic journey became a life-changing experience for me.
Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.
- What are/were your deepest fears during your cancer journey?
- How can you overcome those fears?
- What do you need to change to live a happier and healthier life?
- How will you go about making these changes?