In June 2004, Stage 4 kidney cancer attacked Yogesh’s kidney, spleen, pancreas, lungs, leg, brain and skull… a finding that all doctors involved believed to be a death sentence, giving Yogesh only months to live. But months grew into years.
Shobhna Pathak, his wife, ensured her husband, Yogesh, was properly taken care of at the hospital as he faced frequent surgeries and specialized treatments over the years. “The minute you blink, something bad happens,” said Shobhna. “It’s vital to be vigilant — to have your eyes wide open 24/7. I had no strength, capacity or interest other than to take care of him. For months at a time, I lived on the sofa in the ICU because I didn’t want him to be alone. Too many things slip through the cracks when you’re not standing guard.”
His daughter, Jhanavi, described her mother’s fierce protection: “Socially my mother is an introvert. As an advocate for my father, she is a Pit Bull.”
A model teenage daughter and A student, Jhanavi lived alone, getting herself through the demanding I.B. Program and into the world-renowned university MIT. She found comfort and purpose in creating cancer support groups — first at her father’s hospital, then at her high school. But throughout her junior and senior years, and into college at MIT, Jhanavi heard the ever-present ticking of the clock.
Now, eight years after a prognosis that could have crippled the strongest of men, Yogesh Pathak is a walking, talking, living enigma — the Cancer Poster Child for how sheer determination, willpower, multiple surgeries, and an experimental trial drug can triumph over a terminal cancer diagnosis.
After fighting their own battle, Yogesh and his daughter, Jhanavi, have declared a war on cancer.
“What good is living in the wealthiest country in the world, with the best doctors, treatments and facilities, if the people who need help can’t afford it? People shouldn’t have to go broke or lose their homes to get treated,” Yogesh said. “Our War on Cancer Foundation will never be an impersonal, detached organization. We stay close to people going through this.”
Father and daughter decided to harness their experience to fill the void of resources they have encountered since Yogesh’s devastating diagnosis in June 2004.
“My dad’s cancer didn’t change me — it defined me. A third of my life has been dominated by cancer,” Jhanavi explained. “The War on Cancer Foundation is a labor of love. We want to take our experience, as terrible as it was, and do everything we can to make sure nobody faces cancer the same way we had to.”
In fighting cancer, the struggles of the caregivers are often forgotten. Shobhna and Jhanavi agreed that it didn’t hit them day-to-day, but when they stopped to breathe, the thought of losing Yogesh was crippling. With their foundation, they also want to help the patients’ daily cheerleaders – the caregivers.
“Caregivers support the patient. Who supports the caregivers? Unless you are a caregiver, it’s impossible to understand what people go through,” explained Shobhna. “There’s no break for the caregiver, but how can being tired or stressed compete with cancer? What caregivers experience is hugely different than for the patient. The patient is focused on fighting the cancer. The caregivers bear the immediate burden of collateral damage.”
Beyond the traditional roles of supporting research and education, Their War On Cancer Foundation will help patients and caregivers with daily living expenses and difficulties, extending access to counseling, and providing Advocates to help navigate all facets of the experience, from treatment and recovery, to billing and benefits issues.
Jhanavi explained, “We are fighting a War on Cancer. Education helps keep people out of the war, and research holds promise for ending a war. But what gets you through the war?! That is partly where we come in. We are the troops who go into battle with the patients and caregivers, fighting alongside them – and when they don’t have the strength, fighting for them. When you hear cancer, most people think ‘death’. We want to help people focus on living.”
The father and daughter team want to make certain others don’t deal with the pain, frustration and helplessness that accompany a cancer diagnosis alone.
“We want to silence the ticking clock, so patients and their families can focus on living. All the collateral damage? We want to help with that so they can focus on life.” Jhanavi added, “Cancer, your clock is ticking. Game on.”