Friday, July 19, 2013

Diary of an Optimist

“I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.”- Mother Teresa
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a diehard optimist.
Sure - I have my moments where I think my world is falling apart; when I start to fear the future; when I get afraid that I, or God-forbid, someone I love deeply, will get sick or have some medical condition that will forever change them. But then I look back at my life and realize that everything always works out for the better.
When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children (At the time, I was one of only 25 children in the country with the disease).
When I was 21 years old, doctors found a very rare heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW). The doctors deemed my diagnosis to be a "special case" because only a very small percentage of people with this rare condition develop symptoms at such a young age.  
And now, at 23 years old, I found myself back in the operating room after doctors discovered that my WPW resurfaced - a recurrence of the disease after treatment occurs in less than 1% of patients.
In each of these situations, whether it was with my diagnosis or with the surgeries that proceeded, I was that rare anomaly you hear about in the brochures: I was that "less than 1% of patients"; I was that medical liability.
But I continue to stay positive and optimistic. Not in spite of my previous medical conditions, but more so because of them.
Throughout my short time here, I have experienced and learned a great deal. Enough for a lifetime. 
I've learned to be thankful and appreciative for everything I've been blessed with, because it can all so quickly be taken away.       
I look at one of our close relatives who has Parkinson's Disease. For him, the very act of getting out of bed is troublesome; walking is nearly impossible; even lifting a spoon of food from the plate to his mouth becomes a workout.
So, yes:

I've learned that people are more important than things, because nothing in life is guaranteed with the exception of the love from your family and friends.

I recently lost my uncle, a father-like figure in my life, to pancreatic cancer. Things were bad. His health was rapidly deteriorating. Doctors gave him only a few weeks to live.
For those last few weeks, my family and I were constantly visiting him in the hospital, spending endless nights scavenging to find sleeping space in waiting rooms. Each time I walked over to his room, I passed by another patient with a similar condition. Yet, in the three weeks my uncle was in the hospital, not once did I see a single visitor in the other patient's room. Not once.
We were not visiting him because we "had" to. Never once did my uncle ever ask us to do anything for him. We were there because we wanted to be. Because we truly loved him. 
And THAT was always a guarantee.
I've learned not to compare my life, struggles and all, to anyone, because as easy as it is to find someone who's doing better, it's even easier to find people who are doing far worse. 
During my first chemotherapy session, I remember feeling really down about myself and the situation I was in. I thought about the other kids my age, as well as my friends and classmates. "Why can't I be like them? Why do I have to go through all this. It's not fair." But as soon as I turned my head and looked around the hospital room, I saw nine other children, younger than I, undergoing harsher treatments for longer periods of time. Then it hit me. 
"Wow, I am the luckiest kid in this hospital."
I've learned that the best way to help myself is to help others. 
I remember a doctor once came into our chemo room (or as it was ecstatically referred to by us patients as our "kicking butt center") dressed as a clown. He went around to each of our beds, made some jokes, and performed some small magic tricks. And that's precisely the moment I fell in love with the art. 
With magic, the impossible becomes possible. I saw things that I didn't understand or know why or how it happened (just like my cancer), but I knew that there was some reason behind it all. But if magic could provide me, a kid who was deemed "the lucky one" by my nurses, that sense of hope and inspiration, then it should also be able to help others. So I perform charity magic shows, share my story, and try to give back every second I can.   
Because no one in this life should get a free ride. If I'm lucky enough to have blessings, I have an obligation to pay it forward.  Besides, when things get rough, I know I need others to help me out. If this past week has reaffirmed anything, it's that life is much more difficult, near impossible, without the help of others. So I should, at least, better my karma and place a down payment on my future.
I've learned to be thankful for all my struggles, because they always serve as a constant reminder for me to be thankful and appreciative; to live in the moment; to appreciate the big things, but even more so the small things.
As I laid curled up in my parents embrace the night before my most recent surgery, I realized how lucky I am to have the love and support of two of the greatest parents a child could ever have. This week, I realized how fortunate I am to have brothers and sisters that I can call my best friends, and best friends that I can call my brothers and sisters.
Sometimes we take our loved ones for granted. We forget just how great our lives are, and how much there is to appreciate. Thankfully, my experiences have allowed me to constantly reevaluate my life and have the ability to literally count my blessings. 
I've learned that you have to stay positive, because, in the end, that is the ONLY thing we really have any control over (so might as well use it!).
It's not always easy to stay positive. We each have our own struggles, our own battles, and our own unique experiences. But no matter how different mine may appear from yours, we can all learn from one another. 
From me, I hope people can understand that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. I think having this perspective can allow you to not only live in the moment and appreciate what you have, but also take on whatever challenges you come across in a much stronger, more positive, and more effective manner.
I'm learning and improving every day. I have traveled a long way thus far, and have a much longer journey ahead. But whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I do what I do best...
I get in my car, roll the windows down, and blast some Disney music. Now THAT is living!
 "For everything this disease has taken, something with greater value has been given - sometimes just a marker that points me in a new direction that I might not otherwise have traveled. So, sure, it may be one step forward and two steps back...but I've learned that what is important is making that one step count." - Michael J. Fox


  1. You my friend are amazing!!! I just did not realize that you are not part of the 99% We need more democratic 1% folk for sure! In all seriouseness, you give me perspective. Get well and keep up the incredible encouragement! Peace!

  2. You're such an inspiration to me Ashwani, and a lot of other people! I'm sending you my thoughts, even though I know that no disease can slow you down from making a positive difference in the world. - LK

  3. Well said Ashwani - wishing you the best. Stay positive and you sure will be in Control.

  4. Wow... I am sending you some more positive thoughts to tap into. Stay strong!

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  6. You are an inspiration to all of us. Stay strong my friend - you've got a lot of fans who need you!

  7. You have always been such an inspiration to me and a kindred spirit! Your positive attitude and great outlook on life has always given me perspective and it definitely was a motivator for me on my bike trip last summer. You will certainly be in my thoughts as you continue your fight, but Im not worried because I know you will crush :)

  8. When I feel down, I'll bump some Disney music from now on. Great advice and a beautifully written article!

  9. This was super inspirational, Ashwani- thanks for writing it and know that you have an awesome talent to brighten up the lives of others. I'll always pray for you! Hope you get better soon :)

  10. You must feel all the positive energy coming your way from everyone you have cheered just by your presence. I am send you love and all the good karma I can channel. Get well kiddo.


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