C M L – Comes Calling

Pramod George – Mumbai, October 2007


Dengue fever (caused by infected mosquitoes) was knocking at various doors in and around town. There was a suspected case in my building too. It was a Thursday and my daughter who was 4½ years at that time was at home due to a holiday at school. She called me up informing me that a doctor had come to our house to check if anybody had fever. I was working in the Marketing dept of Indian Express Newspapers (Mumbai) Ltd. The doctor's visit prompted me to take a blood test the next day (25/7/03), as I was feeling very low. As per the doctor's (a very close family friend) recommendation, I took a blood and urine test on the morning of 'Good Friday.’

That evening when I took the reports to the doctor, he was confused, as I did not have any symptoms for the diagnosis, which the reports showed. The WBC was showing 26100 and there were some more ups and downs in the report. He advised some medicines and told me to take a blood test after 2 days from a different clinic as he suspected that this report was faulty. The following report showed WBC at 29900. He recommended some medicines for a week and told me that we would have to do further studies if the WBC count did not come down. After a week (4/8/03) the WBC counts were showing 28300 and he told me to go for further information to Dr. M.B. Aggarwal. I asked him what he had in mind. Something in him prompted him to tell me that he suspected that it was a blood disorder and looked like Leukemia. (Later he got a scolding from his wife for discussing it with me without confirmation). I did not discuss it with anyone then.

I couldn't go for further inquiry then, as we all were very excited with the birth of our son on 1st August'03. In the hospital, my wife suggested that I should go for a second opinion and she fixed an appointment with a doctor in her hospital where she was working.(as a sister) After a thorough examination, that doctor too felt confused as there were no symptoms that supported the reports. Call it a coincidence or destiny, but he also recommended Dr. M. B. Aggarwal and asked me to go there for additional blood tests.

I fixed an appointment and met Dr. Aggarwal on 8/8/03. After looking at the case, he asked me if I was prepared for some tests. I gave him my consent and then the Bone Marrow Biopsy was conducted. The samples were given in 2 containers, which we (my neighbor had accompanied me) took to Jaslok Hospital and Bombay Hospital. After a couple of days I got the reports collected and took them to Dr. Aggarwal. After looking at the reports he congratulated me on having a good type of cancer. By 'good cancer' he meant a cancer for which medicine was available. I was diagnosed with CML He recommended VEENAT. His reports were very systematic with a list of suppliers that would help me get the medicine at a reduced price. I asked him if there was any alternative medicine. He gave me a book which explained all technical terms related to CML like PH chromosome…He said this book was from Novartis who were the origina  manufactures and told me the mind boggling price of the same. I liked what was written on the 2nd last page of the book. It said 'Laughter is the Best Medicine' and I practice that whenever possible ?

I broke the news at home that night.

They were all set to cry. I told them that I had overcome the news; the moment the doctor had congratulated me. I asked them to be strong for me so that I would cope. And since then they haven't cried about it in front of me. (Obviously they would have shed many a tear behind me). I shared the news with my seniors and my team members in office who were also very shocked. The only reason I shared it with them was because I did not want anyone to hear it from outside and gossip behind me or pity me. Whatever illness I had was a gift given by God to me, similar to my life. I did not come into this world by choice so I would not leave this world by choice either. Like every hair on my head is numbered in His book, so is my every day.

I started taking the tablets for around 6 months. With VEENAT, I had a lot of side effects – the worst were the severe cramps that I used to get especially in the middle of the night. It was so bad that I used to yell. I used to feel like someone was slicing off my calf muscles. Once, while discussing some financial issues with Dr. Aggarwal, he asked me if I was getting any support for my medicines from my place of work. When I said no, he asked me to get my salary certificate with a letter from my company that they weren't supporting me. He said with these 2 letters, along with my photograph and my residential proofs, I would be able to get the original medicine (GLIVEC) Free of Cost from Max Foundation / Novartis. I reconfirmed this fact with him a couple of times before getting up from the chair and got the papers ready.

I had to go to Max Foundation only once.

I met Ayesha on my visit there and soon an e-mail came as a blessing, stating their approval. If getting diagnosed for CML was God's 1st gift, this was the 2nd gift. This gift had one more blessing; getting attached to Max Foundation. Thus from Feb'04, I began my new innings with lot of friends at MAX FOUNDATION who have the privilege of being blessed and bonded by CML. I still wonder how it all began but any time I get a call or e-mail for some activity at the Max Foundation, I don't know how but I find time. The regular meetings that we have for planning all our activities whether they are big or small help each one of us to contribute in whichever way we can. The Pyar Ki Jhappi of Amma (my son always asks me why Viji aunty is called Amma!) has a lot of power. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes, but I never cry. The planning that we do reminds me of the sales planning meetings that we used to have when I was in marketing; yearly target meet, the quarterly target meet and the team meetings. Even Philip Kotler and other management gurus would feel the inflow of thoughts that encircle our Friends of MAX meetings.

Taking GLIVEC has not restricted me in any way.

I carry on my daily schedule. My work is as hectic and my eating habits are the same. I enjoy all the food that I used to enjoy earlier. One of my friends keeps telling me that I am like a pregnant lady. The moment I feel that I should eat a particular thing; I locate the same within the vicinity and have it. The color of my skin has improved; people have started to enquire the secret of my change. I tell them, “You are not privileged enough to enjoy the benefits of CML.” I don't feel bad to share my experience with any one, because I feel that it might influence someone to be stronger in thought, word and deed. I tried alternative medicines in the form of Ayurveda from Kerala too. I was not very keen to try this, (as it deprived me of having a lot of my favorite foods fried food/chicken/fish/oil), but I had to try it as my parents wanted me to. When it started to have a negative impact on me, I told my parents that we should not experiment. So we discontinued that and now I am on GLIVEC alone. I try and avoid any sort of pills till the last moment (earlier I used to pop a pill for any small ailment). I try and overcome it naturally. For cramps I use some Liniments or external spray/ointments instead of painkillers.

I want to share one more wonderful experience…

In October'05 there was a small corn in the sole of my left leg. I tried removing it by using Corn Caps but it  kept coming back. On the doctor's advice, I went to get it operated at the hospital where my wife was working. I was given local anesthesia on the foot. When the doctor was working on my feet, I felt a bit giddy. I told this to the male nurse who was next to me. I don't know what happened next. When I woke up I had ten doctors surrounding me on the operation table and the anesthetist was sitting over me and yelling at me to get up. He revived me. It was only by the Grace of God that Dr Alkesh was the anesthetist as he was also an ICU doctor who was well aware of all the crucial tricks of the trade. Later on he told me that the monitor showed a straight line for approx 1½ minutes and that I had had a Cardiac Arrest. This experience has made my faith in God stronger. It reminded me of the book of Job from the Bible where in the trials that Job underwent, all his belongings, family, cattle were taken away from him. And at the end when he withstood this, God blessed him with twice as much. And what happened to the corn on my leg? While in the ICU for 5 days, the corn dried up and it peeled off without an operation. I learnt from this not to ignore any doctor's advice. If the doctor was reliable and if they suggested any test, one should do it. It is better to be detected today and to face it sooner, rather than repent later.

I will end my story with these few lines from a hymn that I say everyday,

One day at a time, sweet Jesus,
That's what I am asking from you,
Lord help me today
Show me the way
One day at a time…
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus
Tomorrow may never be mine
Lord help me today.
Show me the way
One day at a time…