QUEEN'S ROAD: Amit Vaidya, a cancer survivor, has written about his journey in a book.
Called Holy Cancer: How a Cow Saved My Life, it talks about what patients can do reclaim their life in the face of a formidable health challenge.
The writer has a PhD in Economics but takes more pride in having recovered from Stage IV cancer to remission. Through the course of his treatment, he learnt a lot about allopathy and alternative therapy. He started the NGO Healing Vaidya Foundation and regularly works with terminally-ill patients.
Vaidya spoke to City Express about the book, his NGO, and what it takes to be a survivor rather than a victim.
From where do you draw inspiration?
Inspiration comes from music, nature, strangers, or by simply living. I’ve always made it a point to find inspiration wherever I can. My parents are still with me though they are no longer physically present in this world.
What prompted you to write a autobiography?
I think anyone who writes a memoir starts with the purpose of letting go of some of the emotional heaviness. I was able to share my journey, offering a window to patients, caregivers and individuals to perhaps find an alternative path towards health. We seldom talk about disease, life, death, dying, loss and faith. I can’t preach to anyone without sharing details from my life. Perhaps, this autobiography is a first step towards being an inspiration.
How has life changed for you as a cancer survivor?
Life hasn’t changed, I’ve changed. For me, surviving and living are the same thing. That’s been the whole point of my journey. Life isn’t about a cure. It’s not about death. It’s about living and being on the journey, without expectations. When I realised this very simple point, I started living an organic life, without frivolity, without complications, and most importantly, with freedom and faith. I don’t take even a moment for granted. I’m only as healthy physically as my last scan and I’m only as healthy mentally as my last thought.
What are the challenges you faced after you were diagnosed with cancer?
This is a heavy question. I think it might be better to ask what challenges and hardships I did not face! I can’t really say that one was more difficult than another. Everything life throws at you, good and bad, you have to weigh it all equally. Whether it was the lack of emotional and financial support, the isolation of getting treatment, and comparing my life to that of my peers who were succeeding at work and raising families, there have been many things that I could wish were different.
As I state in the foreword, I have to thank equally those who weren’t there for me. Without them, I perhaps wouldn’t have found the road to my healing.
What brought you the attitude of never say die?
Life is short. We spend a big part of it trying to prevent death. But we are so scared to talk about death that we are still so ill-prepared when it comes knocking on our doors. I guess because I’ve been so close to death, I simply couldn’t give up on life even if I wanted to. I saw so many good people, people who inspired me, lose their battles, yet I remained standing. There had to be a reason. I promised to myself to accept everything with a smile. I wouldn’t be honouring any of those wonderful souls to whom I’ve dedicated the book by carrying a negative attitude. Sometimes, faith trumps all other feelings. In my case, I had help coming from strangers, whether they were villagers where I stayed, or the cows that contributed towards my healing and became like family. I accepted the support, and they lifted me up if even for a second I contemplated otherwise. We all need these support ecosystems to instil faith in us. I’m thankful mine was so strong and continues to be.
What would you say to people who have lost hope in life?
It’s the easy way out. It’s much harder to live than to die. I am living proof that you can. But inspiration can’t come from outside. When we live for others and follow what others want us to do, we often forget our priorities. It’s so important to always be in the driver’s seat of your life. When dealing with a disease like cancer, we let go of so many things: our work, our families, our control over how we look, our hair. It compromises so many facets. But by letting others---no matter how well-intentioned and loving---dictate what we should do, we give away the little control we have left in our lives. Losing hope isn’t an option when you are the primary decision-maker in your life.
What made you come up with an NGO?
Healing Vaidya Foundation stems from the idea that we must have access to as much knowledge as possible to take the best decisions for ourselves. There are thousands of wonderful non-profit organisations for countless causes. But seldom is there an organization whose sole intent is to inform individuals to find the answer themselves. We all are responsible for finding our own healing paths. No doctor, guru, parent, book or treatment can offer a cure. The cure is only possible when we have faith and a routine that we follow with discipline. It’s my hope that Healing Vaidya is a launching pad for access to alternative options. I can’t guarantee anything but hope, and hope must be packaged with practicalities and realities. We have loved ones around the world to offer positive support, so it’s our job to at least do our bit to ensure that we are living the healthiest and happiest life possible.
How easy or difficult is it to fight back?
I could have played victim rather than survivor. I could have complained rather than feel thankful. I can’t say I’ve never wallowed in self-pity. But every problem is simply just a part of life. Holy Cancer: How A Cow Saved My Life was the best way for me to shed all the problems I carried with me and finally let go.