My name is Sanghamitra Roy and about one year ago, my life changed forever… I was diagnosed with leukemia–a form of blood cancer. This was a huge change from the past four glorious years—the best phase of my life so far. Between 2014-2017, my husband and I received promotion and tenure at our jobs; we received a lot of national and international recognition for our research and travelled several countries of the world with our child. However, since my diagnosis, it has been an incredible journey and I would not have been able to fight this without my two warriors: my husband Koushik and my son Deep.
I still remember the fateful night of April 4th, 2017. Due to excessive fatigue, at Koushik’s advice, we went to Instacare after cancelling my afternoon class. They did a blood draw and a complete blood count (CBC) but then said that their machine was faulty. They asked me to redo my CBC at the hospital, so I did and later we went to pick up our son from school. After returning home we went to the park. We were thinking the doctor will call with an anemia diagnosis and prescribe some supplements. The doctor did call back and when he said “blood cancer”, things became hazy for me. I said, “Blood Cancer???” in utter disbelief to my husband. He was also in disbelief and speechless but he hugged me tight. The doctor advised me to go to the ER immediately. We dropped our son at a neighbor’s place and went to the ER. What seemed like excessive fatigue was diagnosed as a very aggressive form of leukemia. In fact, my white blood cell (WBC) count was 800K (normal high range is 10K) and doctors at Logan hospital told me they haven’t seen that high a count in their lifetime. The Instacare test wasn’t faulty after all. I was on the verge of death and transferred via ambulance to LDS hospital at Salt Lake City, where I went directly to the ICU. I had a near death experience that night. Somehow at that moment, all that mattered to me was some more time to spend with my husband and my child. Nothing else mattered, not the recognition, nor the professional success, nor the house where I lived–nothing else.
By morning I knew I was most likely stable and going to live at least longer than the previous night, thanks to my doctors and nurses. The next emotion to fill my mind was denial. Why me? I had been maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A lot of people say cancer is a lifestyle disease. In fact, in the last few years, I did many lifestyle changes, eating fresh organic vegetables, fruits, rarely eating carcinogenic foods, exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight, and never smoking in my life. I had perfect and normal Lab results just a year ago. None of my parents or siblings had cancer. Why me? What did I do wrong to get this? I had no answer and neither did the doctors have any answers as to what caused this. All they could say it was not genetic. I guess life is a great equalizer, everyone goes through good times and bad times, and this was one of my top ones.
After a couple of days when my mind had enough of near death and denial emotions, I decided that I am going to fight the disease to get my amazing life back–the life for which I had worked hard for many years. And I will use this unique journey as a new avenue for growth and learning.
Right from the diagnosis, my husband has been beside me every step of the way. His only focus was to get me well. We had to relocate to a place 80 miles away from our home and stay away from our son Deep for several months. I know how incredibly hard it can be as a caregiver but I am ever so grateful for Koushik’s love and patience in caring for me, cooking for me, while also undertaking his professional responsibilities at work. In these 8 months, I have never seen a drop of anger or frustration in him, but endless love and encouragement and giving me the hope that I can beat this terrible disease. Deep, our 6-year-old son has shown such an amazing strength during this difficult time in our lives. I cannot imagine a 6-year-old having to live away from his parents for several months. But he never complained and adjusted quickly in the two wonderful families caring for him. Deep learned to pack his luggage every time he came to visit us and carefully take his things back. This child has been through so much but never complained once and I am so grateful to be his mom.
My eldest sister is the reason I am still alive. She turned out to be a full match and very generously donated her stem cells to me. I got a stem cell transplant in September 2017 after receiving several months of chemotherapy treatment. Her baby stem cells are growing in my body and the hope is that they give me a new immune system to remain cancer free.
And here I am after one year. The past year has shown us amazing support from some of our family, friends and students. I feel so happy to see so much selfless love and kindness in the people around me. I have gained some great new friends during this journey. I try to do a little of that each day, something to help others grow, or to help someone in a crisis. I try to enjoy blissful moments with my loved ones and with the nature surrounding me. Cancer will forever be a part of my story whether I am a survivor or a fighter. I wish to grow and develop more as life takes me through this unique journey.
I want to encourage everyone to never give up, even when faced with a difficult diagnosis. Along with treatment, the human body can do amazing things when combined with hope and positivity. I will end this story with a beautiful quote: “Bad things do happen in the world like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations, always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things” – Daryn Kagan.
Author: Sanghamitra Roy, PhD,
Associate Professor at Utah State University,
ALL Leukemia Survivor
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