Published: 24th November 2017
How cancer pushed Aashim Joy to organise stem cell donor drives across India
Aashim Joy is in the remission stage of lymphoblastic leukemia. Right now, he is conducting drives asking people to be stem cell donors
Until July, Aashim Joy had no clue what lymphoblastic leukemia was. Bone marrow donation was completely alien to him. But today, this youngster is busy setting up camps in India and the USA, inspiring people to register to donate their bone marrow.
But who is Aashim and why is he doing this? Let's go back a year. He was like any other Indian youngster you'd meet in the streets of New York. He was happily married to the love of his life, working with Deloitte, happily spending his days in the city that any millennial would have wanted to move to. All was well.
It was sometime around January and Aashim had just gone back to New York from Bengaluru. That was when he had a bout of fever and headaches for the first time that year. This somehow became a regular thing over the next few months. But he did not care too muc about it, "Going to the doctor here in the US is a tough thing. It is really tought to get an appointment," he says.
Support system: Aashim with his wife Reema Singh
Months passed and July arrived. Aashim's parents had come to pay him a visit. Owing to his pressure from his mother and wife, he finally went to a walk-in clinic, where he gave a sample of his blood for further examination.And that's when his life turned upside down, "It was July 8, when I got a call from the hospital and I was asked to go to its emergency department. I asked them if I could come later and they said 'No' in an assertive tone," he says. Even at the hospital, he remembers how he was taking selfies with his wife until the doctor walked in with his results and told him that he may have leukemia. "That's not great news," Aashim said, puzzled. "No. That's bad news," the doctor replied. The couple was shocked and broke down. The only good news there was the doctor's assurance that the leukemia was curable.
He was quick to begin his treatment. Four and a half months later, the cancer is in its remission stage, much to Aashim's relief. He may not necessarily need to go for a bone marrow transplant too. But that was the time when he realised how ignorant people are about the transplant. "It isn't as tough as you think. It is as easy as blood donation and your bone marrow grows back soon." explains Aashim.
Fear is what he thinks restricts more donors from coming forward. And Aashim is trying his best to eliminate this fear from their lives and hence motivate more people to save lives. At the same time, he is making it a point to be regular for all his chemo sessions which will continue for three more years
And so, with the support of his family and Chennai-based NGO Datri, Aashim began conducting blood stem cell drives. "The primary initiative is to have a donor ready. It is really difficult to find a matching donor," says Aashim. The NGO maintain a directory of people who wish to donate stem cells and Aashim wants to spread more awareness and let people know that it isn't a mammoth task.
"You just need to swab your cheek with something like an earbud and give it to a doctor who will confirm if you can donate or not," he explains. The first drive happened on November 19 in Aashim's hometown Perumbavur in Kerala. The next drive is coming up in Bengaluru on December 2. Later, he's planning to conduct drives in every city he has a connection with — Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi. Later, he will organise a few drives in the USA too in association with the ICLA Da Silva Foundation..
Fear is what he thinks restricts more donors from coming forward. And Aashim is trying his best to eliminate this fear from their lives and hence motivate more people to save lives. At the same time, he is making it a point to be regular for all his chemo sessions which will continue for three more years.
When Joy is your surname, you've got to spread it, right?
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