“Cancer is like a river,” Nikhil Joshi wrote in his blog near the beginning of his treatment for lymphoma.
“I’m floating down it with the people I love, learning and suffering and laughing. In the end, I surrender to the mystery of life and trust the universe to do what’s best for me, whatever that may be.”
Sounds quite serene for someone going through what Joshi went through last year; someone who was under the stresses of a job in the medical field; who had dealt with the breakup of a longterm relationship; who had lost a good friend due to complications of cancer treatment.
That’s not to say Joshi was unflappable throughout the entire course of his own treatment. While the blog is comical on the whole, there’s plenty of frustration and anger expressed in his entries, which are more than peppered with F-words (to the dismay of his mother, he admits).
He writes about enduring chemotherapy every two weeks, having to give himself shots of Neupogen to stimulate his bone marrow to churn out white blood cells, his nausea, self-pity and vulnerability.
Joshi laid it all bare, didn’t hold back, and in the end, escaped with a new outlook on suffering.
Joshi, 27, from St. John’s, was a resident in internal medicine when he noticed a lump on the side of his neck. He had no other symptoms — just a lump. He showed it to his father, also a specialist in internal medicine.
“He felt it and his face went ashen,” Joshi said. “As soon as I saw my dad look at me, I knew I had cancer.
“There are different types of lymphoma with different prognoses, so I was pulling for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When they actually told me that’s what it was, I felt like I had hit the jackpot, while my mother was bawling her eyes out.”
Joshi’s treatment lasted about four months, and he was given the all-clear Jan. 17.
He wrote his last blog post, dedicated to his mom, that day, but two days prior, knowing his health ordeal was over, he wrote to his readers.
He told them the whole thing had been horrible, but also beautiful, with many moments that defined himself, his life and relationships.
He learned the clichéd truth about what’s most important in life, and realized there is no point in holding onto suffering or pain.
“Don’t be ashamed of you or what happens to you — we’re all victims at one point in this life, and I truly mean this. Whatever has happened to you is not your fault and I hope you can forgive yourself, because the world does care, it really does, but the heavy lifting of this life has to be done by ourselves,” he wrote.
“We are given a monumental task in this life: to love and make ourselves happy.”
Joshi feels his suffering, ultimately, made him a better doctor, since he now understands better what his patients want and need.
Before, his main priorities were making sure they had the best antibiotics possible. Now, having been there himself, he realizes they may be looking for convenience, comfort and communication from their doctor.
While keeping his blog, Joshi documented his experiences with cancer through an eight-part CBC Radio miniseries called “Dr. C.”
He also took his writing to a new level, penning a book called, “The End of Suffering,” which was released in February. It’s his second book; the first was “The Companion,” published in 2006, explores elements of spirituality in prose.
“The End of Suffering” could easily have been a memoir, perhaps along the lines of his blog, with the F-bombs taken out. But it’s not, and Joshi gives instructions to readers on Page 1, telling them the book isn’t meant to be read cover to cover. You close your eyes, open your mind and pick a page by chance.
Each page has a short verse, a meditation about suffering, healing and hope.
“Do not try to go around your pain; it is too wide to circumvent,” reads one passage. “Take it by the hand, sit with it a while, drink its bitter tea. When the cup is empty, your friend will depart.”
Joshi took this approach because he didn’t want the book to be about his own experience. He wanted his words to be applicable to anyone who needs healing.
“Some people are victims of sexual assault, some people lose their children from a childhood illness. There are so many things, and the common thread is just our human liability to suffer,” he explained.
“I really wanted to be able to give back some of the compassion I received. It’s really not about the things I went through. It’s not about cancer. It’s not about heartbreak. It’s that I am a human being and I suffered, and you’re a human being and you’ve suffered, too.”
With the book, Joshi hopes to impart a sense of companionship and understanding to readers, letting them know they can turn their own suffering around to personal gain.
He’s reminded of a friend of his: having gone through a painful divorce years prior, she got remarried.
When he met her later on, she was still talking about what her first husband had done to her, and Joshi said he was hit with sadness, realizing his friend was holding on to something which made her suffer.
He wants to teach people to let go of painful memories and be well.
“If we take these things in our lives that are difficult and we accept them rather than wishing them away of pretending they’re not there, and we care for ourselves and others, we can find our new day,” he said.
“The End of Suffering” is available online through Amazon, Chapters Indigo and Barnes and Noble, as well as in select bookstores across the country. Joshi will be holding a public launch for the book Thursday evening at Clovelly Golf Course in St. John’s, starting at 6:30 p.m. Read Joshi’s blog at www.nikhiljoshi.ca.