November 21, 2018
Amar Bhaskar, Cancer Survivor
The Journey from Corporate Boardrooms to Hospital Beds and back
Away from the crowds, in the tall grass that grows to the far left of Lalbagh, two men are setting up their tripods and cameras. Amar Bhaskar and his friend Murali Santhanam, both senior executives with a global tech giant, have come here to pursue a common passion – photography. For Amar, his hobby holds particular significance: it’s what got him through one of the most trying times in his life.
“In 2006, I noticed a persistent ulcer on my tongue. A routine visit to the doctor changed my life overnight: I was diagnosed with malignant tongue carcinoma.”
He summarizes his initial reaction as ABCDEF:
Anxious about what was going to happen
Broken and let down
Confused about what to do
Depressed and lonely
Fearful and blaming fate
“I had no vices. That’s when I realized that cancer is the great equalizer. However, the one thing that I had learnt from leading a unit of 2,500 people at work was that such setbacks are a part of life, and that one must tackle them and move on with conviction.”
But through it all, he continued to work, sometimes from home, and pursue his passion for cricket, carpentry, yoga, and photography.
“After my recovery, I bounced back to normal life feeling stronger than ever. My speech was unaffected, and I was in high spirits, celebrating my victory,” Amar remembers.
Cancer Strikes, Again
But three years later in 2009, to his horror, he noticed a lesion at the very same spot on his tongue. More visits to the doctors and his worst fears were confirmed. The cancer had recurred. This time, however, the doctors felt that surgery was the best option: they removed the affected portion of the tongue.
“I was determined to face it, and told myself that I would be back in action soon. The day after the surgery, to everyone’s surprise, I was up and about. But the recovery was a lot more complicated this time around. I was left with a tongue that was very different in shape and size. I had to work hard to regain my normal speech, and it was very frustrating to not be able to pronounce certain words.”
Family and Extended Family
Through this ordeal, he had unstinting support from both his colleagues and family. Says his wife Uma, who facilitates children at a Montessori institution, “The support we got from our doctors was amazing.”
“My in-laws were also very supportive during his treatment. My mother-in-law took over the home front, and both she and my father-in-law showered our son with a lot of love and attention.”
Amar’s mother V. Saraswathy, with Zen-like calm, describes her feelings when she was first told about her son’s diagnosis. “I accepted it. My only thought was about what to do next. We are their elders, and if we get tense and fall sick, then we are only adding to their stress. I felt I must pray that he gets better.”
Lending a Hand
Amar and his team have held four exhibitions at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in the city, and has tied up with Rotary Club of Bangalore West to hold annual events. At one exhibition, it raised Rs.5 lakh for children with special needs. In 2006, he was conferred with the Paul Harris Award for exemplary contributions and service to social causes by Rotary International.
In 2010, he joined the Pink Hope Cancer Patient Support Group, of which he is now in charge, He has been working towards launching an awareness program for cancer warriors to help them in their recovery and connect them to other survivors who reinforce and spread the message of positivity.
“Cancer is a six-letter word and so is Prayer,” Amar points out. He goes on to elaborate what Prayer means. “It is the power of Positive thinking, which gives you the strength to Regain control, Adapt to changes, reinvent Yourself, Explore your hidden talents, and Rejoice with your family and friends.”
He signs off with, “Cancer is not contagious; but victory over cancer can be made contagious. Live your new life consciously, helping others to succeed.”