A week before his seventh birthday, Ayush was woken up from sleep by an excruciating headache. When he talked, his speech was slurred. His parents, Reshama and Amol, are both physicians, and when they were in medical school, did pediatrics rotations at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). They knew it was the place to take their son.
Ayush had a mass in his neck that needed to be biopsied for a diagnosis. “Honestly, this was the scariest part of the whole situation, because the procedure was so technically difficult, and we needed it to start his treatment,” says Reshama. The results revealed that Ayush had Burkitt lymphoma, a rare, fast-growing blood cancer that develops when white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control.
Ayush was immediately admitted to CHOP, so he faced his seventh birthday in a hospital room. “We were completely unprepared, but CHOP wasn’t,” says Reshama. Late that morning, a group of nurses came in and threw him a party. Ayush jokingly told them he wasn’t technically 7 until 5:50 p.m. “So they repeated the entire celebration at exactly that time!” says Reshama.
Throughout his treatment ordeal, Ayush displayed maturity beyond his years, says Amol. For example, at one point, his parents were on the phone with a nurse practitioner discussing whether Ayush should get an NG tube for nutrition. “Ayush took the phone and asked several questions,” Amol recalls. “He himself agreed to the tube. But he’s still a kid — after he hung up, he burst into tears.”
Ayush has spent the months since his diagnosis studying up on cancer and its treatments. He says that cancer cells aren’t “bad” cells, they just got the wrong instructions. When he was inpatient at CHOP, he marveled at how many other kids were admitted to the oncology floor. He’s decided that when he grows up, he wants to find easier treatments, including better-tasting medications and a way to draw blood that doesn’t hurt!