Ramanlal Patel’s long journey began as he boarded a plane from India back to the U.S. But the journey spanned more than the Pacific Ocean: It has become a 12-year trip filled with family, friends, grief and gratitude.
|Cancer Survivors Day featured a country fair theme. (Photo by p.cunningham)|
His journey is that of a cancer survivor.
Patel, 67, was one of the hundreds who celebrated Cancer Survivors Day at City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center on June 2. The event included music, prizes, entertainment and words from physicians and patients.
Cancer survivorship begins the moment someone is diagnosed. It includes those considered cured, as well as resilient people like Patel who live with cancer every day.
A battle with myeloma
Patel’s story started in 1999 on his way home to Rohnert Park, Calif. He arrived visibly exhausted — unusual for the former soccer and cricket standout. His family urged him to see a doctor. The diagnosis: multiple myeloma, the second-most common blood cancer.
|Ramanlal Patel (Photo by p.cunningham)|
He went to nearby University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and after five months of aggressive chemotherapy, he was ready to have his hematopoietic (blood) stem cells harvested for transplantation.
After the transplant, he and his family traveled the world. New Zealand. Fiji. And India again. He and his wife climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, appreciating every sight before eventually returning home.
Unfortunately, their time together grew to a close — not because of his cancer, but because of his wife’s heart. While the family was attending a San Francisco Giants game, she collapsed of a heart attack and died.
“I had a fight with God for two weeks,” Patel lamented. “Why did you take her?”
To compound his grief, his cancer returned. Despite a second transplant in 2008, the cancer resisted. Today, he is grateful to live with his daughter in Southern California and is under the continuing care of Amrita Krishnan, M.D., director of City of Hope’s Clinical Multiple Myeloma Program.
Ever smiling, Patel traveled to City of Hope from Orange County to be part of Cancer Survivors Day, despite fatigue from chemotherapy. “Last night I felt terrible, but I decided I had to come,” he said. “You have to remain positive.”
“Deal with it”
Patel’s good nature is matched by Tony Azpeitia, 74, a travel agent from Hacienda Heights who stopped by the celebration.
When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009, it was no surprise: It runs in his family. Unfortunately, it happened only six days before he was supposed to lead his Travel Pink! Travel Oahu tour group to Hawaii for a breast cancer fundraising walk. His research on robotic prostatectomy led him to City of Hope surgeon Mark Kawachi, M.D.
|Tony Azpeitia (Photo by p.cunningham)|
“I feel very privileged to be here,” he said, crediting volunteers and staff who supported him.
Calling cancer a “bump in the road,” Azpeitia remains upbeat despite some residual cancer that is being treated through radiation. He ticks off a list of his accomplishments since diagnosis: He organized his 55th high school reunion, volunteers as an usher at church, continues to organize trips to Hawaii and has reached out to people who helped him earlier in his life to thank them.
He refuses to back down to illness. The day he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he said, he embraced a better diet and exercise, dropping about 25 pounds and delaying the need to go on medication.
“So I got cancer,” said Azpeitia. “‘Asi es la vida’ — that’s life — deal with it.”
The attitude is echoed by Patel and many others. “People cried when they found out I had relapsed,” remembered Patel. “But I said, ‘Why are you crying? I’m not crying.’”