Sunday, June 29, 2008

Prize Day

I was at Modern Symphony practice with the guys (I don't actually sing) when I got a call from Rohan Mazumdar telling me that I was being awarded a Special Prize, and that he wasn't exactly sure what it was called. Sure enough, James made it official a few minutes later by calling and asking me to cut my hair and get a pink tie for Prize Day. Devashish also got a call (Quite obviously!). So naturally this cheered me up immensely after the debacle of the board results.

The Prize Day for the Seniors was to be the 1st of June. Eeshaan and Rohan were involved in the actual ceremony, with Rohan generally overseeing stuff and Eeshaan strutting his stuff on stage. The day came, I went to school with Izaan and Devashish (Eeshaan and Rohan reached there a little earlier), found Rajiv who had arranged for ties, but we were one short. So we went around school looking for one pink tie - Zeba said Mrs. Murthy had it and Mrs. Murthy said Zeba had it, so Priyank and I gave up and headed back. I donned the pink tie over the white shirt that Mazum lent me, and then went upstairs to cool off in the gym AC with Devashish and Charan. Halfway through, Devashish was treated to a long discussion with Mr. Arya about the injustice of being born poor while I ducked into a nearby class.

Soon, it was time, and we headed to the Auditorium. It was mostly empty, but Devashish, Ayaz and myself took our seats on the right side of the hall and chatted for a while. The school appeared to have majorly underestimated the number of people that were going to attend, and thus many were left standing, mostly parents and teachers. The Chief Guest of the Evening was Shashi Tharoor, whom I was really looking forward to meeting up close.

And so it began. Mr. Bloud's summary of the school year seemed to include EVERY single event that took place, and so took a sizable amount of time, and then the actual distribution ceremony started. The presentation was the same as last times, I remember making it with Adhitya and Rajiv!  They started with the Junior grades, and I automatically clapped for everyone who came up, as did most of us, but the coolest part in each Grade was when ONE guy or ONE girl won like six prizes. (Devashish and I were having a chat with Akshay Subramanian before this. Deva asked him what prizes he won. He thought for a minute, and then said it would probably be better if he told us what he didn't win! Hilarious) These people were so short and they staggered off stage with a ton of books balanced in their hands. It must really suck to come after them!

The whole prize day was like a musical with breaks for Prize Giving. They had Lion King, Oliver, a few others and Saturday Night Fever! SNF was scheduled just before the Special Awards were given out and Eeshaan OWNED THE STAGE! My dad wanted to go buy the CD of Saturday Night Fever after the performance, and all of us were up and chanting along and cheering him on! I love that guy! Anyway, then came the special prizes. Notable mentions in the Special Awards are Zeba, Apoorva, Karishma and Srishti who DAZZLED us with their fantastic scripting skills and went up to DESERVEDLY collect the best Playwright Award together. I don't think there was anyone there who deserved their award more than them :P 

Anyway, jokes aside, some two prizes into the ceremony, Deva nudges me and I realize that they're saying something about grit and determination and adversity, so I get up and wait at the right while they finish the introduction (Zeba was there in the front for some reason - oh yeah, TWO Special awards, would you believe it - and she looked back and gave me a smile) and then I strode up on stage. I think Mr. James still wanted to say something, but the rest of it was a blur. I went to Shashi Tharoor and shook his hand, and he told me something, which I couldn't hear over the audience - however I nodded my head wisely - and then posed for pictures and headed back off stage. I tried vainly to find my father and grandfather where they were last sitting, but I was told that Mr. Solomon later shifted them up to the front, where, oddly, I didn't spot them!

Anyway, the ceremony ended soon after, as the Special Awards were last on the agenda, and then Shashi Tharoor came up and delivered a speech that blew me away. It was funny, yet serious, light yet thought provoking and so relevant in terms of todays world. I was really impressed that he had composed that just for this occasion - UNTIL Mr. James and Adhitya told me that he had said most of the same stuff at another event (I think the inauguration of the Debating Society) so that kind of burst my bubble. 

It was time to exit the hall now, and my father and grandfather were waiting outside. I asked them to wait while I collected the box for my award, accepting congratulations from many people I knew - Rajivs parents, Srini's parents, Mu'az's family and some others as well as several teachers- as well as people I had never met. A most gratifying experience.

A quick run up to the classes when I realized that I had left my bag there, and then we headed off a bit early because Dad was really tired as he had come directly from office. I wanted to linger a bit and talk to everyone but it is what it is.  So we left, and in the car, I get a most touching piece of information. I had got a standing ovation. I didn't notice it in the glare of the lights, but my dad assures me it happened. I was really touched. And deeply grateful. A milestone day in my life. 

Board Results

Devashish, Eeshaan and I set out to get the results at school. On the way we were discussing how we would rearrange the facial features of anyone who tried to call and tell us our marks. Obviously, you could cut the tension in the car with a knife. The ride passed with occasional lame jokes and each of us telling the other that we weren't going to do so well. Deva kept out of this.

We reached school, and tried to look important as we strode towards the IT Lab. Charan met us on the way - 95.something! Then we made our way into the Lab and barricaded ourselves in. Apparently the internet didn't work, so it was a mad rush to call parents and ask them to check it for them. Results kept coming out. Izaan - 96. Ankit - 96. Superman/Rohan - 97.75. Rajiv - 95.something (I keep confusing him and Charan, which one got .5 and .75) Deva 96.75!(and NO subject below 95! Amazing!) . I tried to get mine but the site wasn't loading my page. Finally it loaded, and guess what it showed. 

X's in place of my marks. Why? Because I had given it at another centre, it wasn't B/8308/021 (which I had written on every one of my papers) but B/8something/093 (a school in Mumbai who provided the invigilators during the exams). So I wait in the front lobby in a state of major tension, while everybody around discusses their marks, some happy, some not so happy. I ask Mr. Bloud what was happening with my marks. He said that they were contacting the ISC so that they could forward my marks to me. 

I only had time at school until my dad came to pick me up, because he had to head home and then out again. So I was praying I got it before then, but I didn't, and ended up leaving with my dad as a nervous wreck. We got into the car (Rohan also came with us as he lives near me) and we headed back home. About 5 minutes into the ride I get a call from school. Its Mr. Bloud. My results have come in. Before he reads them out to me, he tells me that they didn't include the practical marks. Oh, oh. He reads them out, and I am literally crushed. I don't want to mention my marks here, suffice to say they were crap. I started sobbing, and Rohan, the awesome friend that he is, comforted me (along with my Dad obviously). But I couldn't get it off my mind for a few days, and kept responding to 'Well Done!' with 'for what!' for quite some time until my aunt and cousins and immediate family stopped telling me it was good. I know they were trying to make me feel better, but 83.5 is never going to be good enough for me.

Anyway, thankfully, as it always happens, people soon forgot all about it and started concentrating on preparing for college, enrolling for courses, getting their study permits (a perpetual thorn in my side, this deserves another post by itself.) I had already enrolled in all my courses and paid the enrollment deposit to book my place while I was in the hospital itself, so I was set from that end.  

I think the whole college, study permit thing deserves another post. I'll get down to that soon. 

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cancer - The Middle and The End

I'm writing this at the end of a very long journey. The journey comprised six months of treatment, six cycles of chemotherapy, and 30 cycles of brain radiations. My dad was at my side for the most time, supported by my family from Canada, Pune, Delhi, Chennai... everywhere. Most of all, I can't forget the support given to me by my family in Dubai. Of course, I mean my sister and grandfather, but my family in Dubai is much larger. The amazing support I got from my school, my friends, people I didn't even know who started sending me mails, the teachers at school, and every single person who took the time to pray for me, relentlessly, day after day, until He decided I was too much of a bother and let me go. For that, I am truly grateful.

A few highlights of the ordeal. The relationship and bond that I formed with the doctors and nurses were beyond belief, and the lengths that they went to to make me comfortable were... beyond the power of words to capture. They have such a thankless job, and yet one that thanks them the most, for they have a real influence on real lives, and one for which the lucky people they have touched are truly thankful.

Although I was irritated with it when I was there, I miss the daily routine. It was something like this: 

6:45 - Tea
7:30 - Change the sheets
8:00 - Shower
8:30 - Breakfast
10:00 - Milk
1:10 - Lunch
4:00 - Tea
4:10 - Blood Pressure Check
8:00 - Dinner
9:30 - Milk
10:00 - Sleep

This was interspersed with a thousand people coming in to the room to clean up every day and the occasional head nurse with her entourage coming to visit the favorite patient :P And obviously, the doctor's visits. And even more obviously, the main reason I was there : The chemotherapy and the radiotherapy. The chemotherapy was no big deal. If you read the Lance Armstrong book, it makes a big deal out of it, but that was 1997, and in 2008, it was barely any pain at all, just the initial pricking of needles and stuff. Even that was made redundant by the insertion of a port that ran directly to the heart, surgically implanted near my shoulder. 

And then of course, the exams. I spent the time between 10:00 and 1:00 in the mornings and 5:00 to maybe 7:00 in the evenings trying to cram for the exams, but I felt very very tired so I wasn't able to sustain much of studying momentum. Because of the tiredness generated by the morning I generally slept for about 2 hours in the evening. 

And the exams themselves, what to say. I thought English, EVS, Bio and maybe Chem went pretty well, and it turns out I was right. Only I was wrong when I assumed that I would get awarded Practical Marks. Anyway, people are telling me to be happy with what I got. I can never be happy with 83.5, but I can understand that I'm being too hard on myself, so I just let the matter slide.

And then Dubai!

I came back for a brief 15 days before my sixth cycle (five cycles and then a 15 day gap). It was the most AMAZING thing meeting everyone again, I hadn't seen them for around three months and I managed to miss quite a few school events. 

More on that. I missed quite a bit, but I am SO grateful to Mu'az and whoever helped him for compiling a farewell CD for me, and sending me the little shirt and the invite and book. It REALLY helped cheer me up when I was there. 

So anyway, coming back to Dubai, for however short a time, was AWESOME. I tried to meet at least one friend each day, and since I wasn't allowed out much because my immunity was low, people kept visiting me. 

And then back to Jaslok again, for the sixth cycle. 

Radiotherapy and all was over, just this left. By the way, Radiotherapy is just scary sounding. But its a bird. They take a mold of your head, and then everyday you go down for a few minutes (3 or 4) and they fix it over your head, VERY TIGHTLY, it buzzes for about 4 minutes, and then they take it off. Thank you, come again.

Anyway, back to the sixth cycle. It was nothing great, apparently this was some really high dosage, but they said that about the previous ones, and though this was a different stronger medicine, I really didn't feel much. There's someone looking out for me up there. Thankfully I'm what the doctors call chemosensitive. 

AFP and HCG are Cancer Markers that are used to evaluate how much cancer is in your body. The normal range for HCG is between 3 and 20. Lance Armstrong's at the start of his treatment was 110,000. Mine was a really scary 225. Thousand. 

At the beginning, the doctors said I had a 20% chance. But I didn't hear any of this, because my father and aunt went down to the lobby and sobbed their hearts out and then returned with a brave face. Thanks to them I just worried about whether I would give the exams and how I would study for them, not the much bigger worries that they were facing. 

I've strayed off topic again. The 6th Chemo was a breeze, and after a final blood count we headed back to Dubai. Once there, now for a good month until the final checkup, we registered with a Doctor Pentti, who did the flushing of my port (ask me to explain that to you) and is my oncologist in Dubai. Unfortunately, he only visits Dubai for a week every three weeks. So we did blood tests here as well to make sure I'm fine, and it was all good.

Then began the Canadian Embassy Study Permit and Medical Exam thing, but that by itself is worth another blog post, so suffice to say I had to take a medical exam for my study permit for Canada (York Uni) and send it to London for them to evaluate and decide if I can get the permit. This being a major subject of worry, I'll devote, like I said above, another post to it and the updates on it. Right now we've sent everything they've asked for (the examiner in London asked for additional documentation which we just sent) and we're just praying now. More on that later.

So then it was back to hanging out as much as possible with friends in Dubai, visiting school (an overwhelming experience for me, the support I got was incredible, with all people I didn't know coming up to me and asking me how I was, I was blown away. I owe Mr. Bloud and the school a LOT for convincing the board to let me write the examinations in a hospital bed. 

Anyway, the reactions to me returning to school were unbelievable. I really can't put it into words, so I won't even try. I then visited it again for the Prefects Investiture, and then on Prize day (thats a separate post), and sometimes I just visited it with a few guys to pick up some college documents and just roam around the campus one more time. 

Time flew, as it always does when you're having fun, and it was back to Jaslok for a final checkup. Thankfully, however, we had already done a CT Scan of the whole body in Dubai, so when we got to Jaslok, all we needed to do was a PET Scan, which we did on the next day after we arrived, and then roamed Mumbai (FINALLY! I got to see the better side of Mumbai). And then we got the results of the PET SCAN. It sounded really scary, saying stuff like new lesions found and all. So we're like...crap!

But then we visited Dr. Advani, the main doctor under whose name my file is kept, (he has like 5 docs under him of varying seniority who do the daily checks) - By the way, it is REALLY hard to see the man. Hes the celebrity of the medical world. But anyway, he came up to do his rounds of the 16th floor (mine) and saw the report, and said these lesions were just dead scar tissue and it was nothing to worry about. But just in case, he asked us to do a blood test for the Cancer Markers. Now during successive cycles of Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy my markers were reducing by more than half after each cycle, which was an amazing sign. So after the first cycle, it (HCG) became 125K, and then 67K, and then lesser and lesser until in the 5th cycle it was somewhere around 8, which was still slightly on the higher side, and finally it reached 3! The AFP also did a similar vanishing act but the exact numbers don't come to mind. It was equally amazing though. I am one of the lucky ones for whom Chemo works perfectly. 

So anyway, this blood test showed a completely normal AFP and HCG reading, in fact slightly on the lower side of the normal range, so Dr. Advani waved us off and said 'Do regular checkups every two or three months. But you can live normally now.' For my Dad, this assurance was a much bigger event than the Board Results (obviously) and I breathed a sigh of relief too. Of course, the Study Permit Medical would prove to be a pain in the a**(which also gets resolved - thats another post) in the coming days, but more on that later. Right now, its back to Dubai, friends, laziness, books, guitar, music and general relaxation. Yeah!