How I survived cancer and built a business with grit and determination
This entrepreneur who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma says he survived because he decided to live every day.
August 25, 2012: My co-founder Swati and I met and conceptualised Team Pumpkin.
February 14, 2013: Team Pumpkin becomes a reality on paper with all legal documents.
March 23, 2013: I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
The lifeline of business
I still remember how Swati reacted when I first broke the news to her. Only two weeks back, her mother had been diagnosed with Stage 2 uterine cancer and I was only going to make her more miserable. She told me on the phone, “I am feeling very, very scared”.
Team Pumpkin was the last thing on our minds. We were both searching for the best doctors in India, best treatment and we would read up every single bit that was available on the topic on the internet.
In hindsight, let me tell you that all the information on the internet is pretty much useless. Everybody is different and no information can make you understand in advance what you’ll be going through.
Coming back to Team Pumpkin, I think Swati and I both had parked the focus on business aside and many people in our friends and family had already declared that our business will have a very short lifeline.
Early days of chemotherapy
In April 2013, I had to move to Mumbai for my first set of chemotherapy treatment. I was spending days in bed and the situation around me was perennially gloomy, to say the least. Physically, I was weak and most of the times, bedridden. If you really ask me, all I wanted at that point in time was just to go out and see a movie or have dinner. It’s funny how we think of these things as boring and mundane in our regular lives, but to me at that point of time, it was something I aspired to do. It was also the time I realised how loved I was. In normal life, no one comes to you and says that they love you or they are fond of you. During this time, I had so many people (many unexpected) who came forward and offered their help and support. I also received much-unsolicited advice, like eating a stem of a plant, or a random WhatsApp forward offering free medicines to cancer patients (which is a scam, by the way) - all these I was better off without. For once, I yearned to be treated like a normal person. Just a normal person.
Mixing cancer and business
One fine day, I got the feeling, or was enlightened that if I don’t treat myself as normal, people around me won’t. I decided to focus on Team Pumpkin in my free time. Swati joined in. We started setting up our Mumbai office. We had our first batch of employees on board. We signed up for office space. We started talking to friends and family for pitches. Soon enough, Team Pumpkin was growing. I must say at this point in time we had a great early team and many of them are still with us. Preetham, Puja, Ganesh - all of them have seen me battling cancer and have been the best support I could have asked for. During these three months, we signed up clients. My family - my parents, my brothers, my wife and kids - were rock solid behind me and looking forward to a fresh lease of life.
In October 2013, I got to know what I’d say is every cancer patient’s worst nightmare - a relapse. I was told that I may have just a few months more to live. People think of it as courage and applaud, but when you are in the situation, you do some things only because you don’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice either. I decided to “live”, even if it meant for a few months. I was in the business, still.
Even though it was a daily struggle to wake up and step out, I decided to attend client meetings. There was a thick tube inserted in my neck and I used to attend meetings with it. The clients did find it awkward at first, but when everyone from our team appeared normal, it became normal for them too. I remember we reached a client’s place, which was on the eighth floor and the lift wasn’t working. I decided not to give up, even though it would take 90 minutes to reach the eighth floor. A lot of people used to get scared when they got to know I was a cancer patient, which I couldn’t do anything about. I wished I could hug them and tell them, “I’m okay!”
I cannot thank my XLRI and NIFT batchmates enough for their contribution to my treatment. One of my batchmates sourced a medicine which was not available in India. It miraculously worked and here I am, six years later working. In the meanwhile, Team Pumpkin is now a 100+ team across Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru working with clients like Axis Bank, Big Bazaar, Big Basket, ITC, Coca-Cola and many more solving all their marketing problems.
Apart from growing the company team wise and financially, we also decided to make Team Pumpkin an inclusive place.
My advice to you…
- My insurance lapsed one month before my diagnosis. I had to spend all my savings on my treatment. Never take your life insurance and medical insurance lightly.
- Gratitude. Cancer taught me to be thankful for my daily food, my daily routine, and daily nuances of life. Trust me friends, what you call boring, is some person’s aspiration.
- I truly believed that I survived because I decided to live every day.
Ranjeet Kumar is CEO of Team Pumpkin