Dr Vijay Anand Reddy - Survival Intinct

One of the most renowned cancer specialists in the city, Dr Vijay Anand has put his years’ worth of experience treating cancer patients into words in his book, I Am a Survivor. The goal of the book is to give readers hope by conveying first-hand narratives of cancer patients who have fought their way through their illness, and live happy lives today.

How did the idea for I Am a Survivor come about?
The minute someone hears that they have cancer, the immediate thought in their mind is nothing but death. They start losing the battle before they actually begin to fight. I thought there should be some way to deal with this fear of cancer – cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment, and the fear of not being able to get rid of this disease.

When a doctor tells a patient that everything will be fine, it doesn’t appeal to the patient in total. But when it comes from a patient who has successfully gone through this journey, it will work wonders. It certainly makes a significant impact on the newly diagnosed patient. It prepares them well. They see hope, start thinking positively and fight with vigour.

Keeping this in mind, I started talking to patients who come to my office even after they are cured for many years. I asked them if they will be OK sharing their journey? Normally, the answer might often be ‘no’. But most of my patients were kind and brave enough to share their stories. Although there are thousands of survivors in my practice, within six months of my outpatient care, we were able to collect 125 stories from patients who were visiting my clinic! I selected 108 stories from among them, and shaped it into a book: I Am a Survivor.

The book outlines some heroic stories of cancer survivors. Which ones struck a chord with you the most?
A 33-year-old-lady walked into my clinic with fear and despair, pleading, “Doctor, please cure my disease and allow me to live till my children’s education is done. After that I do not mind dying. They are too small. I need to take care of them”. She is done with the treatment, and not only are her children’s educations completed, but her children are also happily married and she is joyfully enjoying her grandchildren! That was remarkable.

Another story was when a 25-year-old man walked in and said, “Sir, I just started my job. I have to take care of my parents. There is no one take care of them. They will die if I die. Please do something. I have to live! I do not want to die.” The treatment is done and he is happily living with his wife and children now, and is also taking care of his parents.

One of the most touching stories of all has to be when a very young 14-year-old girl walked into my clinic with her widowed mother and said, “Doctor, everyone in the family is crying. Am I going to die? Is there no treatment for me?” My eyes welled with tears. She has gone through the toughest treatment with a smiling face and she emerged victorious. She is now pursuing her dream of becoming a fashion designer.

There are several such emotional, touching, and powerful stories I’ve seen and felt throughout my career. The moral of these endless stories is that the minute they hear the news that they have cancer, the immediate thought in their mind is nothing but death. They start losing the battle before they actually begin to fight.

What are the key takeaways from the book?
I Am a Survivor shares the powerful voices and stories of hope and inspiration of 108 cancer survivors. The reader is given a rare opportunity to join along the courageous and heartfelt journeys of so many cancer patients, as they transform into incredibly strong cancer survivors. This book will immensely help the newly diagnosed cancer patients to fight the battle with hope and courage.
Prevention, early detection and how to deal with each particular cancer are also topics touched upon in the book.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of the whole journey as a doctor, and now as an author?
By going through this exercise, it is indeed a great feeling and is very satisfying to know how much love and gratitude these patients have for me as a doctor. It is an amazing experience going through the journey of being an author as well. To know each patient more than what I know, their personal life and their feelings. I have won several laurels and awards in my career, but writing this book is the biggest reward in my life.

I always loved my patients, but now I love them even more. I feel they deserve the love and care, and I will continue to do my best to get them the best.

Any parting thoughts?
There is a write-up and inspiration for the cover page of the book, which is as follows: Right next to the ocean of grief…
Stands a bay of hope...
And the bay is made of billions of sand particles...
Each one so insignificant, but together…a force to reckon with.
The ocean continuously tries to swallow the bay…
And the golden sand smiles washed by the glistening tears...

As an oncologist, it’s difficult to come home and have dinner. Or even sleep without being awakened by a wet pillow. Not sure if the tears were mine or those of my patients. In this extraordinary universe, I understand that I’m a speck, as small and as insignificant as a sand particle. But with the bond that I build with my patients, I’m as resolute and as unbeatable as any avenger of cancer. These are real life stories of survivors of cancer.

There’s a challenge for every one of us…and there’s a survivor in each one of us.       --- as told to Suneela