‘From Cool dude to Cancer dud in 10 days flat’
“If you want to make god laugh, tell him about your plans,” philosophised Woody Allen. But for Rahul Yadav, there was little laughing to be done when tragedy struck. He recounts, “It was the August of 2013. I was 28 years old and had been doing very well with work where I had just quit HCL Technologies to join Society Generale – A French Investment Bank in Bangalore. I had also just tied the knot with my childhood sweetheart. We had moved into a new house and were setting it up.
I used to cycle to office (Bangalore is the one city in India where you can do so), was a badminton fanatic and used to play for hours post work. At that time I was keen to buy my first car and also was making big plans to go to Andamans with my wife and parents before my father would retire from the Army. I was just getting started.
But then I just fell sick one fine day. It started with a minor cough and cold. Health got worse and I was then suspected and treated for dengue and eventually diagnosed with Cancer.
On 23rd of August 2013 I was told that I have Multiple Myeloma, a rare form of Blood Cancer. So from Cool dude to a Cancer dud in 10 days flat.”
When everything came to a standstill
“This was a shocker for all. Everything came to standstill,” says Rahul.
While his family was a pillar of strength and support -“My wife and parents and my family and friends were very supportive and calm. They helped me process the diagnosis and gave me the space I needed to accept what was happening. I was comforted by their warmth and support. My wife always had a smile on her face and that kept me going. They say that “It’s only the loved ones who would be there next to you during your tough times”. It is so true,”- he needed something more to fight the toughest battle of his life.
“One thing that really frustrating was how difficult it was to find people who could empathize with me. Generally people perceive cancer patients as unfortunate souls who are to be pitied (or in some cases, judged). Getting a cancer diagnosis is truly unfortunate but we don't require pity or judgement. What we really need is support to battle this disease. We are fighting an enemy that came unforeseen to us-we need all the strength we can get!
Cancer was like an unwanted guest had come over to stay at my house. Not only did he stay but started changing everything thing around me. I could not take up the new job. So was jobless. I had leave my house to shift to Delhi for treatment. I wasn’t in control,” he fumes.
The birth of a startup
Rahul started Yoddhas in 2014 to create a platform for the kind of support and community empowerment that he missed the most during his own recovery. When it came to naming his startup, he went with ‘Yoddhas’. “'Yoddhas' is a Hindi word for 'warriors'. That is how I perceive myself and all those fighting cancer. I chose a Hindi word for obvious reasons-we are focusing on building a support group with special focus on Indians fighting cancer,” he explains.
“We are basically a patient to patient support group. We have various mediums of connecting with each other. For example, various social networking sites like Facebook, Whatapp groups and Website Support forums and even local chapters where people meet in person. These are a few ways we connect with each other. People post their fears, questions and progress on fighting the disease. This way we support each other emotionally and share personal experiences and information.
Through the group eventually people personally connect on the phone and call/text each other. We are a dynamic group where we constantly collect information that a patient provides and give it back to the group in a structured manner. For instance, which are the best hospitals for treating cancer and then help a new patient make the right choice using this information. But I would like to mention that we do not have any commercial tie ups with any hospitals or pharmaceutical companies and the patient data and privacy is always maintained that way,” emphasises Rahul.
He continues, “We hold campaigns in colleges and on social media to get people's attention on cancer and make them more aware about its causes and impact. We also have various on-site campaigns to raise awareness. For example, The Mumbai Marathon on 18th Jan 2015 and World Cancer Day on 4th Feb 2015.”
Fighting the good fight
Rahul’s own battle with cancer was a storm of struggle. He says, “It started with a Big bang – the diagnosis. It was like being hit by a 300 km / hour train. Then what followed was even worse. Endless waits at the hospitals. It became my home for the next 1 year. I have had 15 cycles of chemotherapies (1 Cycle = 1 month of doses) and numerous surgeries including removal of my Gall Bladder and tooth etc., all because of the strong chemo’s that the body could not handle and not to forget countless side effects and running to the Emergency Room in the middle of the nights. After all this, finally a ‘Bone Marrow Transplant’.
All in All a nice roller coaster ride. But a ride that has made me a better human and a more humble person. Today I am in a much better place and have just successfully completed Day 100 post my transplant on the 14th Feb 2015. A major milestone.
Launching a startup in the midst of this storm might seem foolhardy to many, but for Rahul it saved his life. “Receiving so much support and positivity gave me strength and inspiration to fight my own battle harder. When I see all these people battling their cancers, in turn I feel great about being able to give other people the same support and inspiration.
Also to be able to run something of your own and see your idea become a reality – It’s priceless,” he exudes.
The warm support and appreciation that Yoddhas has received from world over has been tremendously encouraging for Rahul. He says, “I believe it was a simple gap that we have filled. People have been very supportive towards us. One major milestone would certainly have to be the recognition we received from UNESCO. Perhaps Yoddhas would not be where it is today had we not received that extra boost from the UNESCO win. It was basically a recognition among 800 Social Start-ups globally and we won the overall 2nd Prize and also the ‘Most Popular Choice Award’. I and my wife were invited to Berlin to receive the award representing India. The discussions and guidance provided by the various experts in the Social Entrepreneurship field really helped me shape our venture further.”
Rahul is now keen to take his venture forward: “We are trying to work on Bone Marrow Registries and would like to take that to the next level in India. India has less than 1,00,000 registered donors and lot of people are losing their lives because they are not able to find a matching donor. Also we would continue to work on the supporting the patients in various formats. We also intend to be able to make the rehabilitation of the patients easier. Both from getting a job to even finding a life partner.”
Yoddhas also has an international tie up with IMF (International Myeloma Foundation)
Currently Yoddhas is financed by Rahul’s personal savings and various crowd funding campaigns that the team has run. They are looking to scale up presently and need funders for that.
Yoddha runs on an army of foot soldiers. Rahul says, “We have a team of young enthusiastic supporters who work with us at various levels. We have team of 30 plus supporters working from various parts of the country. Our National Coordinator Shivani Naik and Delhi coordinator Hitesh Mandla really run the show at the ground level. Some other core members being – Pranay, Palak, Aditi. We also have a lot of voluntary supporters who work pro-bono for us.
We have a dedicated group of enthusiastic young volunteers from across the country who are helping us.”
The Making of a warrior
Like most cancer survivors, overcoming adversity has been the defining moment of Rahul’s life. He says, “I think adversity really makes you think about the world and people. It makes you explore places within that you didn't know existed or hadn't really bothered considering. Life really is unpredictable. One must take each twist and turn as a lesson and learn from it-you simply cannot drown in self-pity. I love the quote and I have changed it to my liking and in fact it has now become my life’s motto.
If Life gives to lemons,
Forget making Lemonades,
Make a yummy Lemon Soufflé instead
The journey was, of course, not an easy one to traverse. He says, “My wife and family are definitely major sources of positivity and support. There was a period of grief and depression that I went through. For a while I went into myself and sort of blocked the rest of the world out. I think that was the worst of it. Slowly I realized that there were probably a lot of people out there who felt the same way I did. I wondered- why not bring all of us together to support each other instead of drowning ourselves in misery? So I started working on Yoddhas. It gives me such joy to be able to connect with other patients and see them connect with each other through Yoddhas.
Commenting on challenges, he says, “I think the biggest challenge of running a startup (social or commercial) is the germination period. It’s like sowing a seed and watering it for days and seeing no results. One gets disheartened to see no visual, monetary or otherwise, results. But then one has to have a little faith and be consistent and just continue working towards your goal. You will see results soon. If I can achieve so much with a handicap (stupid cancer) then anyone can be a successful entrepreneur.”
The way forward
“We have just registered our social startup as a NGO- Trust. So we all are very excited to have finally reached a legal status and now want to further expand to smaller cities,” says Rahul. And from where he is standing, the future looks full of possibilities. “The future is definitely bright. We have more and more people reaching out to us for help and this motivates us to progress further. We have ties with various IITs, IIMs, Symbiosis, and various colleges/universities across the nation.”Some advice
For someone who has had enormous amount of growing up to do in the past two years, battling cancer, becoming an entrepreneur and whatnot, Rahul’s advice to fellow aspirants is deceptively simple: “I would just tell you to get moving. There is no better time than now. Just take the plunge.”