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I Tell My Story To Give Hope And Challenge Fear Against Cancer: Harteij Bhartesh Opens Up About Blood Cancer

A decade back, Harteij Bhartesh was immersed in the vibrancy of life, pursuing a bachelor’s in LLB, when an unexpected turn altered his journey. A seemingly innocuous swelling emerged on the right side of his neck, an unwelcome companion. For over a year, he pursued conventional treatments, all while the swelling persisted and other symptoms like night sweats and weight loss showed up.

Yet, it was the stubbornness of that neck swelling that finally spurred concern from Harteij and his loved ones. He underwent a biopsy, which unravelled the harsh reality—Stage III Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

In a video interview with the CancerMitr Team, Harteij shared, “The news conjured a lot of feelings in my mind, and fear dominated them all. Cancer strikes that extreme emotion within you, and this is the case with everyone. People are scared of the word itself.”

Lymphoma is a form of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system of the human body. The blood plays a crucial role in the maintenance of the body’s overall ability to function with it’s role as the transporter of various substances across the different organs and tissues. RBC (red blood cells), WBC (white blood cells), and platelets are different components of the blood. The lymphatic system (lymph, lymph nodes, and lymph arteries) removes surplus fluids and proteins from tissues back into the bloodstream, minimising the likelihood of tissue edema.

Read: A Comprehensive Guide To Blood Cancer – CancerMitr 

Lymphoma is a condition that sees the growth of abnormal WBCs known as lymphocytes, which disrupt the proper functioning of other normal lymphocytes, resulting in symptoms such as swelling and pain. As the disease progresses, the individual suffers from fatigue, weight loss, bleeding & bruising, frequent infection, and swelling of the abdomen. 

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a condition that is characterised by the presence of Reed Sternberg cells (hallmark tumour cells) in abnormal lymphocytes.

The peculiarity is that the disease can be treated effectively if detected early, with almost 90% survival rates. Harteij was in his third stage at the time of diagnosis, doing his last semester in BA LLB.

“I hesitated to undergo chemotherapy…” he admitted with candour, a delay that proved to be a pivotal misstep.

“To be honest, it was because I was afraid of it. I was afraid of how badly it would affect my body.  This fear led to the delay of the treatment for almost a year.” 

As his symptoms worsened, the cancer progressed to his bone marrow, pushing him into the last stage. At this point, the treatment was non-negotiable for Harteij and his family.

Undeterred, Harteij relocated to Hyderabad, undergoing 12 sessions of chemotherapy over six months. The toll on his body and mind was profound, manifesting in hair loss, gum and teeth bleeding, skin darkening, and other side effects. Yet, with familial support and his own resilience, he navigated this taxing journey, offering a testament to the body’s capacity for recovery.

He didn’t undergo any supportive therapy during his treatment other than making sure that he ate the right food. He ate home-cooked food primarily, whatever he could digest easily, while undergoing treatment. However, he made a conscious decision to avoid sugar. There are multiple studies linking cancer’s tendency to proliferate due to excess sugar in the bloodstream. 

“I never liked sugar anyway. Artificial sugar,” he accentuated, “I consumed sugar through natural sources like fruits only. Other than that, I didn’t have sugar.” 

Harteij also faced a lot of challenges in his personal and professional life, including a breakup.

“There were a few people in my family and friend circle who were very close, but they backed out of my life during my treatment phase. It was tough to go through that,” he said. He also recalled judgmental comments from people like how he looked older than his actual age and more. 

“A cancer patient is someone who is extremely vulnerable and needs a lot of support. They tend to bottle up their feelings, fearing judgement and hurtful comments, especially from their loved ones. I never shied away, I always opened up when I had to,” he said. 

Amid personal and professional challenges, Harteij’s spirit remained unbroken. He remarked that at the end of the day, it is all perspective, highlighting the power of mindset in overcoming adversity.

Six months post-treatment, the tide turned because once chemotherapy stops, the normal body cells start the reparation process. Harteij embraced yoga and gym routines, gradually reclaiming normalcy. 

Highlighting the importance of ‘taking things slow’ during the recovery phase, Harteij said, “It is important that you don’t try to run when you are not supposed to. Sometimes, it is important to do things slowly for a better future.” 

He also found it difficult to get jobs initially due to his medical history. The general notion is that cancer patients cannot function normally like others. Harteij understood the need for awareness and more empathy for patients and survivors. He went on a solo ride across India to raise awareness about the disease, visiting 22 cities in 15 states within a span of 5 months. He shared his experiences with people in schools, offices, and cancer institutions he visited. He also launched his own foundation and counselled cancer patients. To help people with blood donation, he started a group called ‘Riders of Hope.’

Cancer Survivor Harteij Bhartesh

"Harteij went on a solo ride across India to raise awareness about the disease, visiting 22 cities in 15 states within a span of 5 months"

Now, more than a decade after confronting the last stage of blood cancer, Harteij thrives both professionally and personally. His outreach extends beyond his own triumph, inspiring others to share their stories and cultivate hope.
He acknowledges that the decision to delay the treatment, as a result of his own concerns and hesitations, was a blunder. “I fought this disease in it’s last stage, so I would never say that the last diagnosis means the end. You can fight it. That being said, screening is important because the early stage is easier to treat,” he said, “which is why I share my story because it is important to pay attention to those initial unusual signs and get them treated before it progresses.”

His message to everyone is that cancer is conquerable. It is just a matter of facing the challenges and keep fighting. 

Harteij’s story stands as a beacon of warmth, reminding us that even in the face of darkness, the human spirit has the power to emerge triumphant.

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