Against mighty odds.
Kerul Patel – Mumbai, June 2010
My name is Kerul Patel and I’m fighting leukemia since September 2003.
After completing my MBA and MSc in finance from the USA, I returned home to help improve my family business in 1997. I’ve been married to my lovely wife Charita since Jan 1999 and have a son named Pratish who was born in Feb 2002. Fitness was always as important to me as studies or work. Martial art was the preferred hobby during my college years. I had a brief stint with many forms of martial art. They included three years in Karate, two years in Taekwondo & Hapkido each; all during my college days in Mumbai and USA. However, I could never finish off with a black belt in any as either studies or work took priority. Thereafter, I took to running. I especially enjoy running along the Marine Drive coastline and hit the gymnasium 3-4 days a week for overall fitness.
Rewind to September, 2003:
The diagnosis I was 32 then and my son was just one and a half years old. Work was pretty hectic. I was quite fit for a 32 year old, clocking 4km in 20 minutes. It was during a routine construction site visit at a suburban Mumbai location for work, that I was bitten all over by mosquitoes. Within 2 days, on 25th Sep ’03 I was running a fever above 103F. I was convinced by the symptoms that I might have contracted a virus from the mosquitoes and hence got a blood test done on the same day. The tests confirmed that I had contracted the (now notoriously infamous) dengue virus. But there was more to come. My White Blood Counts were way above the desired levels and I was immediately referred to a Hematologist. By 27th Sep ’03, I was in bad shape, running high fever and by now tossing up blood. I was admitted to Bhatia General Hospital. Soon a biopsy and bone marrow test revealed that I was in the chronic phase of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.
Personally, I was badly beaten down by dengue. So I was too weak and disillusioned to react to the leukemia news the doctor had broken to me. My family and friends were rock solid behind me. As soon as I was hydrated through an intravenous line and had platelets pumped into me; I started to feel better. As I lay in the ICU at the Bhatia Hospital, I started to talk to myself. I decided that I was not going to give in without a good fight. After over four years of marriage, I discovered how tough my wife had been on hearing the news. I had to set an example.
News that brought hope.
Thereafter, during subsequent doctor’s visits, I was absolutely thrilled to hear that there was a drug in the market called Glivec. It was distributed free by Novartis the manufacturing Pharma company via the Max Foundation in India due to the high cost. Nevertheless, I knew the fight was going to be a long one. Glivec was the frontline treatment option for CML management. To hear that there was Glivec; which not only managed CML but also enabled one to lead a near normal life was a huge relief.
I did go through the usual side effects of the drug but overall, I tolerated the initial 400mg dose pretty well. By March 2004, I was back in the gymnasium. Slow and steady, I started to take hold of my life. I figured that the bigger fight was in my own head and I was going to win by staying positive.
2005 – The year I learnt what “quality of life” meant.
After having been on Glivec for over a year & a half, my bcr/abl was still above 2%. My dose was increased to 600mg and subsequently 800mg by June 2005. It’s a trade off. Life was different. I understood the meaning of “quality of life” in reference to a cancer patient. The higher dose started showing better results but there was a trade in. It brought about increased aches, pains, muscle pulls and fatigue. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep and it still felt like I’d just finished a long hard tiring day. I used to struggle with my energy levels. I continued with gymming and running but had to take it easy. Eventually, I quit gymming in December 2007 due to discomfort. Lifting weights brought about joint discomfort.
2008 – The low point in my life since diagnosis.
The period between January through March of 2008 was a low point since my diagnosis. I had to undergo prostate-biopsy in January. The days before the biopsy results were extremely stressful. The thought “as if Leukemia was not enough; here I am looking at the possibility of another malignancy” was in a loop in my head. I was frustrated, angry; or as they say “all of the above”. I was totally relieved that my test results were negative. However, for the next 4 weeks starting February, I was in and out of Jaslok Hospital due to post biopsy infection. The pumping of anti-biotics was taking a toll on my body. It was an extremely frustrating time for me as I felt that my mind was far ahead and my body was lagging behind.
By March I’d finally got rid of the post biopsy infection with a heavy price. I was weak; extremely weak. I resumed Glivec with a reduced dose of 600mg which remains the same till date.
I had to do something. I went back to basics. I started talking to myself just like I’d done so during my diagnosis of CML at Bhatia Hospital. The questions going through my mind were: What was I going to do to make myself feel better? How? The answers that popped up in my mind were: Do something that you truly loved doing when you were a kid. So what was it that I really liked doing when I was a kid? The answer didn’t take long to flash by me. It was training in self defense. As a kid, I used to truly love the training. I used to look forward to it and I remember putting in my heart in the training. It must have been the craziest thing I’ve done so far in my life; but that day when I was beaten down and low, I took a decision that I was going to start training. Karate was ideal as I’d trained myself as a kid and had an unfulfilled dream of reaching black-belt. Yet, I opted for kick-boxing for two reasons. The classes were conducted in an airconditioned hall and the timings suited me. Karate was ruled out as it was too rigorous and training in the Mumbai heat was out of the question. Most classes are conducted in halls of schools without a/c.
So I started training in kick-boxing by April 2008. I was acquainted with the trainer as he was also a karate instructor during my college days. The first few months were extremely bad. I used to get frequent muscle pulls and extremely painful ones. But I stuck to the training which was twice a week. It suited me as it didn’t involve weight training. My trainer knew about my condition and he pushed me just that much before backing off. He always seemed to know how much to push me and when to stop. I always compensated the training with extra rest in evenings and weekends.
The Turning Point.
By December I was over six months into training and I was feeling a lot better. The stretching, cardiovascular exercises made me feel good. My energy levels slowly started to improve. In early January 2009, my trainer popped the idea that I re-start karate as he thought I’d be able to manage the training. He tried to convince me that I was capable of reaching black belt. My instructor told me he’d go easy on any major physical contact as he knew I couldn’t afford an injury. It took me few weeks to decide. By early 2009 I made the switch to karate which was a lot more intensive. It was going to be tough. So I set myself small goals. My goal was to last the training without asking for a “sit out” for special rest that I thought I might need. If I was standing up after an hour’s training then that would be goal achieved. Barring a few days, I managed to achieve my goal. This is what I loved to do when I was young and I was thrilled to be back in the game. Everything just came naturally. By mid-2009, I set my eye on the ultimate test desired by so many around the world and that was Shodan (black belt). I needed to increase my cardio to last the rigorous test.
Improvement by ignorance.
I started running by the sea side at Marine Drive. It so happened that the walk-way was being renovated and the markers were removed. Months later, when the markers were put back in place, I realized that I’d been running almost 4.5kms. Even prior to my diagnosis, my limit was 4kms. This error made me realize that most of the limitations are in the mind and if removed, a lot more can be accomplished. I decided to push myself and by December of 2009 I was doing the full length of Marine drive AND back; a total of 6km. I started clearing the grading (or colored belt) tests as months passed by.
2010 – The year I fulfilled my dream by achieving Shodan.
In May 2010, I attended the training camp where I cleared my brown belt. I was just one step away from black which was scheduled for later in the year. However, on the last day of the camp, the senior instructors took a surprise test when he found out that I had trained for many years when I was younger and in different styles. I cleared the test!!! I thus fulfilled my childhood dream of getting the black belt in karate. In retrospect, the decision to get back to self defense training was the whackiest yet the best one I’d taken. Perseverance pays. While most people pursuing karate reach black belt are healthy youngsters half my age; I did it fighting Leukemia and the treatment’s side effects just before by 39th birthday. It was an accomplishment against mighty odds. For this I’d like to thank my trainer Sensei Anil Kadam (4th Dan), my family and friends, my Friends of Max, my treating physician Dr. Sunil Parekh and most importantly Novartis. I could not have made the achievement had it not been for Glivec – The magic bullet!!!
Riding high on my fitness and more importantly the confidence levels I decided to participate in the 2nd Akshay Kumar National Karate-do Championship to be held in October, 2010. I participated in both the katas and shia-kumite. In my weight/age category/group; I made it to finals taking second place (silver medal) in both the events. The shia-kumite second place came at a price. I tore a hamstring in my left leg; a result of over stressed muscles and was in excruciating pain for days. It took me 4.5 months to recover fully from the injury.
What the accomplishment means to me:
I learnt a lesson that impossible is nothing if you can put your mind body and soul into whatever you truly believe in. I’m ecstatic by what I’ve achieved and yet; I stand humbled by life!!! Reason for sharing.
If a person can channel their energies both good and bad effectively like I did, then sky indeed is the limit. If my story makes a difference; even if it’s just one person then the satisfaction shall be far greater than my accomplishments.