My Wish to be a Washington Wizard!

Sometime late last year (2014), I was notified that I had the opportunity to have a wish, granted by the Make a Wish foundation. Make a Wish is an organization that grants special wishes for kids going through life threatening illnesses, such as cancer. When they first contacted me, I didn’t know what to expect so for the next couple of days, I was online looking up previous wish videos and thinking of ideas that maybe I could wish for. A couple of weeks later, two wish volunteers came to our house to consult with me on options that I was considering. I knew I was going to wish for something related to sports. At the end of our meeting, I had narrowed my options to just two. One option was going to the Wimbledon tennis championships and maybe hitting on the grass courts. Before I was diagnosed, I was an avid tennis player and I thought it might make sense to do something related to the sport I play. The other option was to be a Washington Wizard player for the day. I love playing basketball in my driveway with my brother or at the school gym and I love watching the Wizards on TV or at the Verizon center.

We gave the two options to the Make a Wish volunteers and they got back to us a week later telling us that both were feasible. But by this time, I had already known what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Wizard for the day! The Washington Wizards are my favorite basketball team and basketball is my favorite sport to follow. I have been a Wizard fan all of my life, even when they were not winning a lot of games, and my family would always go to the games when we could. I knew if I went with this wish, I would get to meet my favorite player in the NBA, John Wall. I also have a fathead, a life-size sticker, of John Wall in my room, which was a gift from my friend after surgery.

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January of the next year came around and my mom got a phone call from Make a Wish notifying us that my wish had been granted for March 27th, 2015! All I could think was “wow, this is really happening.” In preparation for the day, I would try to go outside every day to shoot hoops. Even on days when I wasn’t feeling well, I would do my best to try to get in shape. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the Wizards! By the time March came around, I was getting really excited for the wish day and couldn’t wait. On March 20th, a team from Make a Wish came with a whole bunch of cameras to interview my family. For about two hours they were just setting up all of the equipment so the person on camera has the perfect lighting and looks great on camera! The crew came around 10:00 in the morning and didn’t leave until about 7:00 in the evening! After an exhausting day of interviews, I could only imagine how great this wish day was going to be. By the time it was March 26th, the day before my wish day, I was so excited but I still didn’t know for sure what I would be experiencing! That night, I couldn’t sleep at all! I may have slept a total of 1 hour, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the next day. Finally, it was time for me to get ready, so I head downstairs to see a limousine waiting in our driveway to take me to the Verizon Center (Washington Wizards basketball arena)!

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I was with my mom and dad, heading to the arena and my brother was at school, and would be joining us a little bit later. We arrived at the arena, and a bunch of cameras were waiting for me. I was immediately hooked with many microphones for each camera and was told that the cameras were going to follow me wherever I go! As I enter the arena, two Wizards cheerleaders meet me and they give me a tour of the arena. We come to a hallway and I have no idea where I am! As we walk closer, I see a really, really tall person at the end of the hallway. After I get a better look, I see that it was the Wizards starting center, Marcin Gortat!

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He takes me to have breakfast and as we enter, I turn the corner to see who waiting for me? Oh yeah, John Wall!

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I sat down to have breakfast with my favorite basketball player and I was speechless. While I finish up my breakfast, I meet the rest of the team, and I head to the locker room to find a locker with my name on it filled with Wizards gear to wear, including a jersey with my name on it. Then, I head to the court to watch the Wizards practice. As they transition to shooting around, I was called to rebound and help out with practice. Marcin Gortat even lifted me to dunk on the 10-foot hoop!

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After that, I had a bunch of interviews to do and I felt famous for a bit there!

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At this point in the day, the Wizards all go home to freshen up and get ready for the game, later that evening. So, after all of my interviews, my family and I went to a nearby hotel to get lunch and rest up for the evening.

Around 6:00, we arrive at the arena via limousine (of course, I’m famous today!). As I walk in, I am taken to the owner’s suite to meet Mr. Ted Leonsis, owner of the Wizards, and Mr. Ernie Grunfeld, GM of the Wizards!

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We talked for a bit, and then they called me over to a table to sign an official NBA contract, to make me a Washington Wizard’s player for the day! I go back to the court and rebound and practice with John Wall and Marcin Gortat during shoot-around. Before I knew it, it was game-time! I was told that I would be introduced with the starting lineup! As my name was called, everyone in the crowd started to get up and cheer! I then go up to the owner’s suite to watch the game. Few minutes in, Ted Leonsis offers my brother and me his courtside seats, right next to the players’ bench!

As the game progressed, the Wizards ended up being down by four with just 10 seconds left. After an exhilarating comeback by the Wizards, they end up winning in double overtime! After a great game, John Wall took me back to the locker room where he gave me his game jersey and shoes (yeah, the jersey was really sweaty, but I didn’t care!). Paul Pierce, an NBA legend, also came to me with his shoes from the game! After that, I didn’t expect anything more but I was called into the coach’s conference room to meet Coach Wittman. He gave me the game ball, which was signed by the whole team! And I sat next to him at his press conference answering questions from the media!

I still keep in touch with the Wizards, and they even called me back for one of their playoff games later that season. After that game, I was taken back to the locker room to meet the players and coach again. I had a talk with Paul Pierce about how great his game winning shot was!

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Including the make a wish game, the game I went to during the playoffs, and two more games that my parents took me to, the Wizards didn’t lose! So, I think that I am the good luck charm! After a hard, season ending loss, I was heartbroken, but I look forward to next season and to going to many more games! I also have all of this gear framed and kept on display, so I can see it every day.

After a great day of fun, I realized the impact that Make A Wish foundation has on kids like me. For the few months before my actual wish, I knew it was coming up, so I was always looking forward to this day and was more cheerful as a result of that, even though I was going through some tough times with my treatment. The wish event really helped me get through the end of chemotherapy in much better shape. I would always look at the video that is the recap of that day to cheer myself up when I needed it.

I also want to thank the Wizards organization for making this day happen for me. Every member, including all of the players, were just so nice and kind and made the day super special for me. I am already looking forward to cheering them on next season!

Please check out the video published by Make a Wish on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENHHmFY8MLU and remember that everyone of your donations to Make a Wish helps a kid like me, going through tough times, have a wish come true!

The Surgery, or whatever I remember of it…

Sorry – while I wrote this post many weeks ago, I never got around to posting it. This is my best recollection of my surgery that took place on April 1st, 2014.

The day of diagnosis, we went to meet a surgeon that was recommended to us by my pediatrician. This was within a few hours of us learning the diagnosis, so things were still not so clear. To be honest, once Dr. Myseros took a look at the CT Scan and confirmed the diagnosis and the need for surgery, he freaked me out with the talk about all of the potential things that could happen as a result of this complex surgery but I knew he had to get all of that information out of the way. My parents, who were also stunned by all of the info, were at least reassured that this surgeon would be upfront and honest with us and I also felt that I would rather have someone like that open my brain for a 6 hour surgery.

Even though it was a tough meeting, we really liked this surgeon but my parents wanted a second opinion. Dr. Myseros was very understanding and even gave my parents a few names. He also said that while surgery was absolutely necessary, I was doing well enough to wait a few days. So a couple of days later, we made a day trip to another hospital to meet a top surgeon dealing with my diagnosis, but right away I thought that Dr. Myseros was more focused and upfront with me. The final strike in my head was when that surgeon started texting on his phone while I was talking, so in my head I knew I wanted to go with Dr. Myseros. My parents and I then talked… and talked… and we found an IHOP and had chocolate chip pancakes and talked over that too! Finally I said that I wanted to go with Dr. Myseros and didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I was hoping that my vote would be pretty valuable since it was my brain after all! Of course, my parents listened to me and said that was their gut feeling as well and the decision was made.

As we reached home I saw that two of my uncles had just arrived from California and Ohio and I was so excited. Right away we went outside and started shooting hoops with them and my brother. I really didn’t want to start a game or anything because both of my uncles are like 10 ft. tall! (OK they are 6’ 5’’ or something to be exact). As we were playing, my mom came outside and told me that they already called the hospital to confirm things and I was going to have surgery with Dr. Myseros the next day at INOVA Fairfax! I really wasn’t ready for surgery the next day and I was crazy nervous but my dad told me that I wasn’t going to be more ready for brain surgery just with a few more days. I knew he was right and I knew that it was the right thing to do and I should just go and get it out of the way. Of course I didn’t know how long I was going to stay in the hospital after surgery because I had no prior experience! But, I was thinking that I would be in the hospital for a week, recover, and be back to school the next Friday. And, that is what I told my friends and my teachers! (Little did I know!)

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I went to sleep that night, not being able to think about anything other than surgery the next morning. I woke up bright and early the next morning, took a shower, and came downstairs to find many people waiting to see me before I went to the hospital. Other than my parents and my two uncles, a couple of our close family friends were there to greet me. I went in my uncle’s car and rode with my parents. So many things were going on in my head that I just wanted to get the surgery over with. My stomach was also growling because I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything for 12 hours before my surgery. After we reached the hospital, my parents checked me in and we waited. For me, it felt like an endless wait but we were called by the receptionist in about 15 minutes. We right away went to the back where there were many nurses and doctors and I could see the doorway to my operating room. I got all of my vital signs checked (weight, blood pressure, temperature, etc.). I went into a room and changed into a gown and waited with my parents.

I could hear Dr. Myseros outside annoyed at someone who was not ready on time. That sound of his voice totally in command reassured me that I was in good hands. An anesthesiologist then visited me to go over the procedure. (It happened that he was a colleague of a close friend of ours and he was super friendly!) He asked me whether I wanted to fall asleep by breathing into a scented mask or to have an IV line go through me and give me a medicine. I knew that I was going to have many IV lines in me after surgery so I decided to just go with a mask. He then asked me what flavor I wanted the mask to be coated with. I listened to all of the flavors and thought hard. (This was my important decisionJ) I thought of my favorite drink, Shirley Temple, and wanted to go to sleep with that smell. I chose cherry for my flavor and the doctor gave me the mask and a cloth to wipe in it and add the flavor. Finally, the nurse who was going to wheel me into the operating room came and asked me if I wanted one of my parents in the room with me before I fell asleep. I asked if my dad could come and he had to wear a sterilized gown as he followed me into the room. This was the first time I saw a real operating room. In the middle was a tiny bed for me and above that were all those lights and instruments. And there were at least six or seven people in the room getting ready to work on me. But very quickly they put me on the table and had me breathing into the mask. As I was waiting to fall asleep with my dad beside me, a nurse asked me about my favorite sport, tennis. She asked, “What part of the body do you use the most to have a good serve?” I answered with, “Your legs.” She then asked, “Why do you need to use your legs?” I replied, “The power would come from your legs because…” And that is all I remember.

About eight hours later, I got wheeled to a recovery room where my parents met me before being moved into the pediatric intensive care unit. I don’t really remember any of that. After a couple of days, I got moved to the Oncology section where I remember many of our family and friends coming to visit and drop of gifts and flowers and get well soon cards. Knowing everybody was behind me made me feel as good as I could in bed. But then for the next few days I was really messed up with lots of headaches and complications that I don’t really remember (including an emergency late night procedure that Dr. Myseros came in to do that I have no recollection of) which is not a bad thing! But my parents told me that Dr. Myseros and the staff there were just amazing and helped me through all of that. The final thing I remember was when Dr. Myseros came to remove a temporary shunt in my head – and I didn’t have any anesthesia for that! And he let me help him through that minor procedure by asking me to put my finger on the spot where he had drilled a hole before he stitched it up!

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After 12 days in the hospital, I got discharged and went home. I was sent with a walker as I couldn’t walk well independently but I quickly transitioned out of it at home. My aunt and cousins from India were there to visit and took care of me so well and were the best!

As I still had a full head of hair then, I fast forward (as I now don’t have much hair) to a recent visit with my surgeon. Dr. Myseros looked at my bald head and said, “Don’t worry, God made some heads perfect, he put hair on the rest!” Hmm…I will go with that for now!

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Our Thanksgiving “turkey”

For Thanksgiving this year at a friend’s house, I took control of our kitchen and made 3 dishes as our contribution for the evening.

First up, I made creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Before even we could reach the party, it was halfway done as my cousins, parents, and brother kept “tasting” it to see if it was good! Next, I made green beans with garlic, paprika, and lemon juice, which acted as a nice side that evening. To finish off my cooking day, I made the essential dish for a Thanksgiving party: Turkey!

Since all of my family and the friends at that night’s gathering are vegetarian, I made a tofurkey. But, from past experience I knew that the store bought tofurkey was bland and was filled with disgusting wild rice stuffing. We have made this two years in a row and while it got a bit better last year, we had learnt our lessons. So this time we went all out! We even bought a special “meat injector” to add to my kitchen utensils! First, here is the Tofurky we got from Whole Foods. It is basically a big frozen wad of tofu (with very little seasoning) and a whole lot of stuffing inside that we all agreed was pretty bland!IMG_1952

The night before, my dad and I marinated the turkey in tandoori paste, a traditional Indian marinade; we also made a thinner version of the marinade and a salt/pepper solution and injected the tofurkey all over with my meat injector to flavor the inside.  The next day, we first baked it for 45 minutes to get it reasonably well cooked. We cut a small hole in one end and scooped out the inside stuffing. We then replaced it with some “Mattar Paneer” we had as leftovers in the fridge! Paneer is an Indian dish made of cottage cheese cubes in a delicious gravy with peas and it is a favorite for many people, including me! We mashed up the paneer and sautéed it with bread crumbs on it to make it a bit crunchy and we decided that it would make a lot better filling! We then carefully stuffed the turkey again and replaced the end to make the turkey whole again! And baked it for the remaining 45 minutes to get it all fully cooked!

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The end result was a hit at our Thanksgiving feast and our friends and family shared a great time that evening! We had no left overs (and that was a first for our tofurkey!).

The Day of Diagnosis

Brrrrrrrrrr… In the freezing weather outside with sleet pouring down on us, I stand outside with just a t-shirt and shorts on. It was Tuesday, March 25th 2014; I was 12 years old, in seventh grade, and I was outside my school due to a false fire alarm.

Everyone waits impatiently and my group, already hungry, having been disturbed in the middle of lunch, had nothing to protect us from the terrible weather. Students get called back in but are not allowed to finish their lunch as the bell rings and we rush to our next class. With my stomach rumbling from the lack of food and everyone’s socks squishing from the wet weather, I groan as I rush to my next class, listening for the bell to make sure I am on time. As I walk to the science room, the teacher, Mr. Shah, stops me before I go in.

He explains to me that I have to go to the office and my mom is coming to pick me up from school urgently. I notice his usual small grin on his face and I know that he is a teacher that likes to joke around. I asked him if he was joking but as he repeats himself, I rush to my locker and pack my bag. I hurry to the band room to pick up my instrument and make my way to the office, waiting for my mom. I nervously pace back and forth in my chair, wondering what the situation could be.

For the past month, I had been having consistent headaches and I was ordered by my doctor to undergo a CT scan. I had the scan in the morning and came to school just before lunch but didn’t get much school as I was getting pulled out already. I didn’t really think that this could be related to me getting pulled out so I just hoped that this was a surprise and I had a day of fun ahead of me.

As I heard the door open, my mom came rushing in to sign me out. Before I could ask her anything, we were already making our way out of the door. My mom explained to me that the CT scan showed something in my brain that needed to be taken out by doing a surgery. Apparently, I had a brain tumor! Suddenly, my heart sank and I slowed down. I was so worried and my mind started filling with questions that I was eager to ask.

My dad pulled up to pick my mom and I up. As we settled down, there was no break in talking as I kept throwing questions at my parents, more than half of which they couldn’t even answer yet. My dad calmed me down and explained that nothing much is known other than that we had to go for a series of doctor visits and MRI scans later that day and it was going to be a long day.

As my dad turned on a certain street I knew that he wasn’t going home and thought something was up. He pulled in front of my favorite neighborhood ice cream shop and we walked in with my mom. We ordered ice cream, the cold mint chocolate chip feeling nice and cold on my already frozen tongue, as we shared a nice mother-father-son moment before facing what lay ahead.

The rest of the day was a blur. We met a surgeon who explained the diagnosis to us and ordered a bunch of scans. Even my dad and mom say that the whole day was a blur with so much information and so many decisions they had to make. I had my very first MRI that day and my dad said I was a total champ and went through the hour of banging inside the cave like machine without any complaints. And then I came home and slept!

Now, as I look back on that dreadful day, I see how surprised I was but also sad at the same time. Even though it was only seven months ago, I feel like it has been a way too long time since then and the whole thing should be over by now, but I know that I have to fight and finish treatment. Since I am still going through this journey, I feel that day is a very significant part of my current life. As painful as it is, I believe that I will get through this strong and beat cancer!