After speaking here at Relay for the last few years, I always get people who ask me why I do it. They say, “Ashwani, aren’t you tired of hearing your own voice?” And I always give them the same response: “Of course, I am, but with a voice like an angle people just want to hear me speak.”
But on a serious note, the reason I continue to stay active and make my voice heard is because of something my parents taught me a long time ago.“If it doesn’t kill you, don’t act like it does.”
We’ve all been through an experience that has changed our lives. Everyone here, whether you experienced it directly, or know someone who did, has some moment that changes the way you perceive the world.
For some, it could be an event, like when you got accepted into college, or the time you arrived at a new place. For others, it could be getting your first job, going on your first date, finishing an entire burrito at Chipotle, or meeting your best friend. It could also be the moment you realized that you actually have no friends (you know who you are). It may be even be the day you heard a motivational speaker at a Relay for Life event; whose good looks, witty jokes, and captivating charm made you want to empty out your wallets and tip him for a job well done…..(thought I’d give it a try).
But for me, what changed my life was an experience I had as a child.
"For a long time it gave me nightmares, witnessing an injustice like that... It was a constant reminder of just how unfair this world can be... To this day, I can still hear them taunting him... "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"... I mean, why couldn’t they just give him just cereal?!”
But for those of you who never watch the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire – you know, the episode they go camping and they get lost in the woods, they’re in the cave for the night and Carlton is talking…ah, never mind. Anyway, for those of you who never watch the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire, let me tell about another experience that changed my life.
I was 13 and in the middle of the 8th grade. Like most boys, I thought I was the invincible! I teased my younger sister, gave my parents a hard time, and ran around the house with my underwear on my head thinking I was superman. Who doesn’t? But that all changed when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: Cancer.
Now, for a 13 year old kid, cancer didn’t really have any meaning. Sure, I heard about it before, but it was something only old people got. I knew that cancer patients were bald, looked very sick, and were always in the hospital. I also knew that after some time, I never saw some those people ever again.
But, you see, what really rattled me during my diagnosis was seeing my parents cry for the first time. It was having my parents look at me like I was about to die. It was seeing all our friends and family come in and out of house, bringing baskets of gifts and boxes of tissues. It was not being able to attend my last year of middle school, or hang out with any of my friends. It was spending every day on X-ray machines and hospital beds. It was about seeing kids younger than me go through more pain and agony that I had to. It was having numerous, painful surgeries that seemed to have no end in sight. It was all the bandages and scars. It was that my life got turned completely upside down.
That’s what cancer was for me. And today, I can’t go more than a few seconds after just hearing the word cancer without getting a little emotional. I start to remember all the things that I went through and that I saw other patients go through. I start to remember the pain.
So why then, am I here today, and every year, speaking out and sharing my experience?
It’s because I learned that if it doesn’t kill you, don’t act like it does.
But I think Kanye West said it best, quote “n-n-now th-that that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger.” And that guy always knows what he’s talking about.
In the same way, I believe that my experiences have made ME stronger, and have allowed me to share my story with others. So if my experiences can help those who are going through the same thing right now to realize that they are not alone; or if it helps people understand the difficulties that cancer patients and their families undergo; or if I can somehow inspire just one person to help end this disease, then I feel it is my responsibility to speak out.
And that’s what events like Relay for Life are all about. It’s about helping us understand that if we fight together, we can survive together.
Because life is truly precious, and every day is a gift. And even if we face a challenge, we can still be optimistic. Because as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “its only in the darkness that you begin to see the stars.”
Well I’ve been looking, and I’ve been seeing shooting stars everywhere.
Thanks so much!