Student maintains positive attitude despite cancer diagnosis

By Hye-Jung Yang
Published: May 2010

Senior Naveen Sridhar had been feeling such intense pain in his left leg for two weeks that one Monday morning in December, he went to the emergency room to get his leg examined, no longer able to sleep at night.

Doctors took an X-ray of his leg and gave him crutches and painkillers for the time being, but noticed that one spot on the X-ray image looked odd. They sent Sridhar to the orthopedists, or bone doctors, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for further testing.

At his first meeting with an orthopedist at the hospital, Sridhar received the news that the spot in his leg and the cause of his pain was most likely cancer.

“I have to admit I wasn’t shocked, he said. “I had already gone through all the possibilities of what it could be in my head a bunch of times.

As doctors were still uncertain, however, they took an MRI scan and a biopsy, and later confirmed that Sridhar had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, under his left knee.

As part of a chemotherapy treatment, doctors prescribed the chemicals Cisplatin, Doxorubicin, and Methotrexate, a combination which they told him was one of the most difficult to undergo.

“[It] kind of destroyed me that first round, Sridhar said.

Despite the fact that his symptoms seem to worsen with each round of the treatment, the pain in his leg caused by the tumor has almost subsided. In about a month, he will undergo surgery to remove the part of the bone containing the tumor, and receive another eight months of chemotherapy.

Throughout the process, Sridhar has maintained a positive outlook on his condition.

“I didn’t really think of it in the same vein as I had thought of cancer before, he said. “Before, ‘Ëœcancer’ was a big word, something to fight… now I feel like I’ve gone back to ambivalence over the whole thing.

In addition, doctors informed him that if the surgery and treatment went according to plan, there was a 70-80 percent chance that the cancer would die out.

As the date for the surgery approaches, however, and the details for the process are becoming increasingly clear, Sridhar finds himself becoming more and more apprehensive.

According to his doctor, the surgeons may have to remove a large nerve in his leg, which will lead him to lose sensation in his leg and perhaps never be able to pick it up unaided again.

“I didn’t know what bone cancer would entail, he said. “I’m hearing a lot of scary things and the seriousness of the cancer is really starting to sink in…when the doctor first told me I probably had cancer, I greeted it as¦ some bump in the road, not the biggest deal in the world. I was kind of wrong.

While some have decided to keep their cancer hidden from the people around them, Sridhar has, nevertheless, wanted to remain open about his condition and his experiences dealing with it.

“I don’t want to set a precedent where sick people bottle up their situations and sequester a part of their lives from everyone else, he said.

At first, he began telling one person at a time, but his parents later asked teachers to make small announcements to help ease his transition back to school after a two-and-a-half week absence.

Senior Tori Wilson, one of Sridhar’s closest friends and the first people that he informed about his cancer, was at first shocked by the news.

“I was very, very sad, she said. “I’ve known Naveen for a long time, and he is an amazing guy¦ it’s really hard to hear about one of your friends going through something like that.

As the news of Sridhar’s cancer spread among his classmates, senior class president Chen Cao got a posterboard and markers and organized a secret meeting in which anyone could come and sign the poster with messages of support. Cao later surprised Sridhar with the poster in his F-block class.

“The people who made a card for me and all the people who signed¦ that was great, Sridhar said. “It means a lot when people are really, genuinely interested.

Sridhar also mentioned his parents as a major source of his strength. “My parents have done a lot, he said. “They’ve been great and probably done more [for me] than I can remember.

Despite his wide support system and positive outlook, however, having cancer meant losing some things that once brought him pleasure.

His chemotherapy treatment, for example, not only brought him nausea and headaches, but also lent a metallic taste to all his favorite foods.

“Amid all my other awful symptoms, the inability to actually enjoy things¦ [meant] essentially losing a really big part of what made me happy throughout the days, he said.

Another traumatic time, according to Sridhar, was when his hair began to fall out in the shower due to the chemotherapy.

Later on, he began finding hairs everywhere and realized that he had to cut it all off.

In the face of all his treatments and symptoms, however, he has maintained a high morale. One thing he is pleased with, for example, is that he has become more adventurous in trying out “incredibly spicy, tasty foods as a result of his metallic taste.

In addition, he does not find his short hair much of a problem anymore.

“I know I will actually look like all the other patients at Dana Farber and the Children’s Hospital, he said. “I’ll have joined the club.

Senior Julia Sklar, one of Sridhar’s friends, is impressed with his optimism.

“He never really complains or asks why this has to happen to him, she said. “Here all we seniors are, disappointed about not getting into our dream colleges, as Naveen maintains a great sense of humor while simultaneously battling cancer. It really, really puts things into perspective and I seriously admire him.

“I’m not going to become a darker person to accommodate an illness, Sridhar said. “I’d rather continue to find the humor in things and smile, which are things you can’t really do if you let cancer win over your spirit.

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