Our Patient Advocate for the Month of June – Dr. Raghu Krishnaswamy sent us this heartfelt message, addressing his journey with CML and encouraging fellow CMLers with these positive words-
“Dear FOM Patients and Care givers,
As A CML Survivor since June 1999, I am writing this short note in the hope that it will give strength and courage to all CML and GIST survivors.
I am a practicing Cardiologist currently working as Director, Non Invasive Labs, Care Hospitals, Banjara Hills Hyderabad. My family members include my wife Dr. Niranjini who is a plastic surgeon, my two sons Varun and Vikram who are both Engineers from reputed Universities and have in addition acquired their Master’s degree from the United States. Both my sons are married having selected their own life partners. My daughters-in-law are highly qualified, the older, Priyanka, an MBA from SP Jain Institute and the younger, Adora, a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from Rochester University, New York. Reading the above lines, you must think, “Wow! This guy has got everything going for him.” Well, life wasn’t that simple to start with and that is what my story is about.
I was born in Chennai which I have always regarded as an aberration for I have lived almost my entire life in the most lovable city on earth which is Hyderabad. I did my schooling from All Saints High School, Gunfoundry after which I obtained a seat in M.B.B.S in Gandhi Medical College O.U. after writing an entrance examination. I then went on to do my MD Medicine from Osmania medical college and then my post-doctoral degree of DM Cardiology from the prestigious Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram. After a brief stint in the Middle East, I joined the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences as Associate professor of Cardiology. Everything seemed hunky dory to me at this stage. However, that is when things came crashing down. The advent of the year 1999 was like any other year before that. At least there were no portents of any impending misfortunes.
It was in early June that my colleagues and friends started remarking on my weight loss. I didn’t give it much thought as I felt quite healthy at that point. However, a fortnight later I started experiencing frequent loose motions, and a dull pain in my stomach region. Suspecting malignancy of my intestines I decided to undergo a CT Scan of the abdomen and incidentally also obtained a few blood tests. I knew things were terribly wrong the moment I sighted the look on the Radiologist’s face through the glass. The blood report came shortly after and the diagnosis of CML was made. Suddenly the world around me seemed shattered. My children at that stage were 10 and 7 years old and still in their primary school. Then, started the darkest and most difficult period of my life. I was started on Hydroxy Urea which was ineffective. My siblings did not match for a bone marrow transfer and so without anymore options I was started on Interferron and Cytosine Arabinoside. The side effects were so unbearable that I was living practically in hell. My professional career started declining and suddenly life was without meaning for me.
I went to the US with my students’ help to enroll in the gleevec trial but unfortunately missed it by a week. Unable to bear my plight, Niranjini’s brother found out about the trial being on in Singapore. I enrolled in it and for a year would travel to Singapore every 3 months for tests and a supply of gleevec. I developed a deep remission within a month and am in MMR since then. Thanks to Novartis and The Max Foundation I have not had to look back ever since.
I have withstood a major fracture of my leg requiring operation and an appendix surgery but never needed to stop gleevec through all these years. I am a fit 65 years old now and am able to play two sets of doubles tennis and work for 9 hours in the hospital. A quality of life that no other chemotherapy drug would permit. This is why when people harp on the side effects, I get quite impatient with them, for in my opinion, the side effects are very minor compared to the humongous benefits that it confers.
In the year 2002, the gleevec trial ended and the alarming possibility of having to purchase the drug became a reality. It was then that Novartis stepped in and initiated the programme of giving gleevec free through the good offices of The Max Foundation. It was then that I came in contact with an amazing person with a rather old-fashioned name of “Vijayalakshmi.” The shorter version suits her very well and she is known the world over as Viji and in India as “Amma.” I still remember, as if it happened yesterday, my telephonic talk with her and the vibrancy in her voice. Also, the triumphant feeling of placing her as a South Indian despite a perfect North Indian accent. This was followed by a brief visit by her to Hyderabad. She visited me and we soon set out to meet the other recipients of gleevec from Hyderabad. A core committee was set up and we soon started conducting meetings for patients with cml who were on the drug. A number of regional meets followed culminating in a National Meet, which was attended by over 1200 patients and Care givers. We also conducted a core group meet recently and have been celebrating CML day with great enthusiasm year after year. Good collections were made last year for the Chai for Cancer programme.
Gleevec has given me a rebirth. Gipap and The Max Foundation has become another family. I feel twice blessed. To those who happen to have CML and read this I want you to understand that CML, like Diabetes and Asthma, is just a condition and not a disease. Gleevec has given us the opportunity to live a full life without worries for the future. CML has made me a better person, able to empathize with my patients better and understand their needs well. I am able to pursue my hobbies of playing tennis and watching high level international sports. I have watched my children grow and mature into good human beings with a sound set of human values.
In all this, I am fortunate indeed to have Niranjini as my life partner. Her unfailing optimism gave me the necessary courage to meet life’s challenges. Her steadfast belief that things will work out and that God having given us difficulties will also show us a path through it helped me tremendously. I wish all my fellow cancer survivors and their care givers a great future.”