Saturday, July 27, 2013

Make-A-Wish Event

My name is Ashwani Jain....and I am a 10 year cancer survivor.

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Because my doctors found my tumor at its early stages, I only had to undergo 4 months of chemotherapy. I say only 4 months because every other child I met while getting treated at the Children’s Hospital in DC experienced far worse conditions than I did. Many of them were not only younger than I, but also had to undergo more surgeries and harsher treatments for longer periods of time. 

And although their physical conditions made them very weak, their spirits were unbelievably strong. It was from their courage and exceptionally optimistic outlook on life that I was inspired to give back. 

I learned from them that no matter how bad things are, a negative attitude can always make things worse. At the same time, it is often within your power to make things better and find opportunity in every difficulty.

So, I stayed true to the UPS slogan, “what can brown do for you” and I got to work.  

So after I finished my treatment, I began performing charity magic shows for the Children’s Hospital, the Children’s INN at the NIH, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I took to heart what Mark Twain once said, and learned firsthand that “the best way to cheer yourself up is to try and cheer someone else up.” 

Today, I am now a volunteer Wish Ambassador and Wish Grantor for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In 2005, after my cancer treatments were over, the Foundation gave me a trip of a lifetime. It was early morning, and the foundation sent a limo to pick my family and me up. It was the first time I ever rode one. In fact, I didn’t really understand what to do, so I actually rode in the passenger’s seat in front....for those of you who aren’t laughing, let me tell you a secret: You’re not supposed to ride a limo like that. 
Anyway, we then boarded a train to New York City, where we were greeted by a Wish staff member, who gave us a tour of the city and tickets to the Broadway show: Julius Caesar. 
After the show, they took us back stage, where we met the whole cast and crew. Then something happened that made my heart leap. I saw my reflection in the mirror.

But then I got a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around, it was none other than the man I had wished to meet: Denzel Washington.

Needless to say I was awe-struck. He took us to his dressing room, where he spoke with us for about 15 minutes. And for those 15 minutes, nothing else mattered. Cancer was just another word in the dictionary. 

My parents weren’t thinking about the fact that they had almost lost their son; my sister wasn’t thinking about all the pain she saw her older brother go through; I wasn’t worried about all the scars and pain my surgeries left behind. All I was able to focus on was that very moment, and how my dream was coming true.

But that couldn’t have been possible without the strong support and love from groups like BAE Systems. And it is because of the tremendous work and dedication of people like you, by simply showing up to events like this, which make this foundation such a huge success, and keeps ME motivated to stay active. 

I want you all to imagine if we can provide the amount of joy that I had, to ALL children suffering from these types of life-threatening medical conditions. If we can do that, then there is nothing that these kids cannot overcome. And I know that from experience.

I’ve been through a lot in my short life. But I continue to stay positive and optimistic. Not in spite of my previous medical conditions, but more so because of them.

And anytime I’m feeling down on myself, I think, “Today is still better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better than today.”
And that’s all thanks to events like this, and people like you. 
So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you all for giving me hope and inspiration, and for helping dreams come true. Thank you!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Diary of an Optimist

“I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.”- Mother Teresa
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a diehard optimist.
Sure - I have my moments where I think my world is falling apart; when I start to fear the future; when I get afraid that I, or God-forbid, someone I love deeply, will get sick or have some medical condition that will forever change them. But then I look back at my life and realize that everything always works out for the better.
When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children (At the time, I was one of only 25 children in the country with the disease).
When I was 21 years old, doctors found a very rare heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW). The doctors deemed my diagnosis to be a "special case" because only a very small percentage of people with this rare condition develop symptoms at such a young age.  
And now, at 23 years old, I found myself back in the operating room after doctors discovered that my WPW resurfaced - a recurrence of the disease after treatment occurs in less than 1% of patients.
In each of these situations, whether it was with my diagnosis or with the surgeries that proceeded, I was that rare anomaly you hear about in the brochures: I was that "less than 1% of patients"; I was that medical liability.
But I continue to stay positive and optimistic. Not in spite of my previous medical conditions, but more so because of them.
Throughout my short time here, I have experienced and learned a great deal. Enough for a lifetime. 
I've learned to be thankful and appreciative for everything I've been blessed with, because it can all so quickly be taken away.       
I look at one of our close relatives who has Parkinson's Disease. For him, the very act of getting out of bed is troublesome; walking is nearly impossible; even lifting a spoon of food from the plate to his mouth becomes a workout.
So, yes:

I've learned that people are more important than things, because nothing in life is guaranteed with the exception of the love from your family and friends.

I recently lost my uncle, a father-like figure in my life, to pancreatic cancer. Things were bad. His health was rapidly deteriorating. Doctors gave him only a few weeks to live.
For those last few weeks, my family and I were constantly visiting him in the hospital, spending endless nights scavenging to find sleeping space in waiting rooms. Each time I walked over to his room, I passed by another patient with a similar condition. Yet, in the three weeks my uncle was in the hospital, not once did I see a single visitor in the other patient's room. Not once.
We were not visiting him because we "had" to. Never once did my uncle ever ask us to do anything for him. We were there because we wanted to be. Because we truly loved him. 
And THAT was always a guarantee.
I've learned not to compare my life, struggles and all, to anyone, because as easy as it is to find someone who's doing better, it's even easier to find people who are doing far worse. 
During my first chemotherapy session, I remember feeling really down about myself and the situation I was in. I thought about the other kids my age, as well as my friends and classmates. "Why can't I be like them? Why do I have to go through all this. It's not fair." But as soon as I turned my head and looked around the hospital room, I saw nine other children, younger than I, undergoing harsher treatments for longer periods of time. Then it hit me. 
"Wow, I am the luckiest kid in this hospital."
I've learned that the best way to help myself is to help others. 
I remember a doctor once came into our chemo room (or as it was ecstatically referred to by us patients as our "kicking butt center") dressed as a clown. He went around to each of our beds, made some jokes, and performed some small magic tricks. And that's precisely the moment I fell in love with the art. 
With magic, the impossible becomes possible. I saw things that I didn't understand or know why or how it happened (just like my cancer), but I knew that there was some reason behind it all. But if magic could provide me, a kid who was deemed "the lucky one" by my nurses, that sense of hope and inspiration, then it should also be able to help others. So I perform charity magic shows, share my story, and try to give back every second I can.   
Because no one in this life should get a free ride. If I'm lucky enough to have blessings, I have an obligation to pay it forward.  Besides, when things get rough, I know I need others to help me out. If this past week has reaffirmed anything, it's that life is much more difficult, near impossible, without the help of others. So I should, at least, better my karma and place a down payment on my future.
I've learned to be thankful for all my struggles, because they always serve as a constant reminder for me to be thankful and appreciative; to live in the moment; to appreciate the big things, but even more so the small things.
As I laid curled up in my parents embrace the night before my most recent surgery, I realized how lucky I am to have the love and support of two of the greatest parents a child could ever have. This week, I realized how fortunate I am to have brothers and sisters that I can call my best friends, and best friends that I can call my brothers and sisters.
Sometimes we take our loved ones for granted. We forget just how great our lives are, and how much there is to appreciate. Thankfully, my experiences have allowed me to constantly reevaluate my life and have the ability to literally count my blessings. 
I've learned that you have to stay positive, because, in the end, that is the ONLY thing we really have any control over (so might as well use it!).
It's not always easy to stay positive. We each have our own struggles, our own battles, and our own unique experiences. But no matter how different mine may appear from yours, we can all learn from one another. 
From me, I hope people can understand that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. I think having this perspective can allow you to not only live in the moment and appreciate what you have, but also take on whatever challenges you come across in a much stronger, more positive, and more effective manner.
I'm learning and improving every day. I have traveled a long way thus far, and have a much longer journey ahead. But whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I do what I do best...
I get in my car, roll the windows down, and blast some Disney music. Now THAT is living!
 "For everything this disease has taken, something with greater value has been given - sometimes just a marker that points me in a new direction that I might not otherwise have traveled. So, sure, it may be one step forward and two steps back...but I've learned that what is important is making that one step count." - Michael J. Fox