- Route: Rockies
- Ride Year: 2023
- Hometown: Sugar Land, Texas
- School Year: Junior
- Major: Mechanical Engineering
- Email: email@example.com
Why I Ride
Before 2016, I had no personal experience with cancer. To my younger self, cancer was a distant reality that had not entered my sphere of consideration. In 2016, that all changed when my paternal uncle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare cancer caused by a sudden mutation of cells in the bone marrow. Since he lives in India, no proven form of medication was available to him. The only option he had was a stem cell transplant. The chances of finding a stem cell match are rare with a wait that may be very long. My family was devastated.
Initial stem cell matching tests are often conducted with siblings. So, my family eagerly awaited the results of my dad’s and aunt’s tests. Almost miraculously, my aunt, who has a different blood type was a 100% match with my uncle! With rejuvenated hopes, my uncle began the journey of getting a stem cell transplant. The first step involved an extremely aggressive chemotherapy with an accelerated timeline. His health deteriorated almost instantaneously. He went from his energetic and happy-go-lucky self to diminished and depressed in the span of a week. Watching his transformation was horrifying to me. The reality of the situation hit me extremely hard, and I began to realize the true nature of cancer. Cancer destroys by crushing one’s will to live. It attacks the very thing that makes us human: our spirit. For a while after the chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, my uncle’s health was extremely critical. At one point, his white blood cell count was 100 (Average WBC count is between 4,500-11,000). His body’s immune system was completely depleted, and even the smallest of infections could have ended his life. But it didn’t.
During this low point, my uncle’s community banded together. Hundreds of people from his neighbors to the farmers he used to work with as a social worker came together. They conducted prayer circles, meditation sittings, and “Ram Naam” (Devotional Hindu singing) for him. Christian missionary sisters committed to praying three hours every day for him, Hindu scholars chanted the Vedas for him, and a Buddhist monk made prayer beads for him. I was stunned to see how many people spent time praying to the forces of nature to keep my uncle safe. People who didn’t even know him personally and lived in completely different countries heard about my uncle’s story through friends of friends and sent him gifts. From handwoven shawls to handwritten letters, my uncle received basket after basket of love. It was almost as if the universe had built a protective net around him to hold him safe from all peril. My uncle went from sad to joyous just as quickly as he had gone the other way. And in the span of a few days, his WBC count had tripled, and he was on the path to a full recovery. In his second life, my uncle has founded the Bone Marrow Transplant Support Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping those who are currently going through the grueling journey of a transplant.
Had you asked me before 2016 if I believed in prayer, I would have laughed and said no. But today, with my uncle as the living testament to the power of prayer, I have begun to understand its essence. When you have a support system that loves you as much as my uncle’s community loved him, nothing is impossible. My uncle’s massive family brought back the spark in his life by re-igniting his spirit to live. The genuine outpouring of love gave him the strength to fight back. It taught me that when we come together, we have a unique ability to fill others’ lives with excitement, energy, and the resilience to bounce back from anything.
I am, however, aware of the harsh realities of life. There are thousands of people around the world who don’t have a support system like my uncle did. I cannot even begin to imagine the weight they carry all alone. After seeing my uncle’s journey, I was inspired to help those who needed someone to lean on. From volunteering at Memorial Hermann hospital to serving veterans at the VA, I have tried to fulfill a deep longing within myself to serve my community. Now, with this incredible opportunity ahead of me in the form of Texas 4000, I will ride for those who are fighting their battle silently in the confines of their loneliness. I will ride to contribute, in whatever small way I can, to our collective fight against cancer. I have to ride to give back to the community something it awoke within me: the spirit to serve.