“Cancer doesn’t affect one person, it affects an entire family. When I got cancer, it was like my entire family got it. It was not just my life and routine that changed but also my mother’s, father’s and brother’s. It wasn’t just me, technically they also beat cancer. So, we are all cancer survivors,” says Vishal Ballal, 27-year-old cricketer who was forced to take a brief hiatus from the cricket pitch after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2016.
Happiest Health caught up with Vishal and his mother in a cancer awareness event organised by Manipal Hospital in Bengaluru. Vishal’s message to those affected with the condition is simple. It was something his idol Rahul Dravid told him and his teammates during a summer cricket camp.
“Be calm and composed always. Unwarranted aggression will affect your concentration and game.”
These words had a deep impact during his own fight against cancer.
The fever that changed my life
Back in March 2016, Vishal was on cloud nine as he was confident of playing for the Karnataka Ranji team. He was a promising allrounder with a good run at the All India Under 19 Rajiv Gandhi trophy team representing Karnataka. Vishal also adds that his performance in many city and state level tournaments had caught the attention of selection panel members of RCB. He was regularly included in the RCB summer cricket camps held at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru.
“It was a regular day and then I slowly started feeling feverish. Small red spots started appearing on my skin. Some of these looked like blood clots and my parents rushed me to a nearby clinic. A blood test was done,” Vishal recollects. He was asked to get a bone marrow test and it was confirmed that he was showing symptoms of Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APML).
A smaller cheering crowd at home
“The result was a shock for all of us at home. It was not just my cricket dreams but also my college and the fact that the treatment was going to severely affect our financial stability,” Vishal tells Happiest Health.
Vishal was in his second year B.Com when he was diagnosed while his younger brother studied in school. His father Prathap Ballal was working as a private driver and his mother Sujatha Ballal was employed as an administrative staff at a private school.
“I attended junior camps organised by RCB regularly hoping to make a mark for myself beyond the club cricket circuit when the diagnosis happened,” Vishal says.
His treatment commenced immediately, and Vishal remembers his body had a tough time adjusting to the treatment procedure. The blood transfusions were followed by chemotherapy cycles every three months.
“Those were the darkest times of my life, being confined to bed and sensing sadness and fear on my parent’s faces. But we had already decided that we were going to fight this together, as a team,” Vishal says.
“There were a lot of people who helped our family like relatives, friends and well wishers. My father had to change his job but we managed. My college friends used to come and sit in our house and crack jokes and talk with me like we did in college. I used to lay on my bed and listen to them,” Vishal adds.
Recovery, building form and no chutney from hotels
Vishal’s treatment lasted for more than two years. He had to undergo at least six months of blood transfusions and nine cycles of chemotherapy. The family was elated when Vishal started showing positive signs of cancer remission by the end of 2019 and finally confirmed that he beat cancer.
After medical confirmation that he is indeed a cancer survivor and the worst is behind him, Vishal revived his early morning routine of jogging and workouts.
“I don’t exert much but I am slowly building up my strength,” Vishal says. His mother Sujatha nods in agreement and says how much Vishal loves to be back on the field. They also point out how difficult it was to make it to the top selection lists without money and influence in both the cricketing and political circuits. As of now Vishal has started working at the accounts section of a private firm.
When asked whether his life as a cancer survivor is as normal as his pre-diagnosis days, Vishal says that he is almost getting there. Vishal is cautious of certain things otherwise it’s similar. He says being a cancer survivor comes with a lot of responsibilities.
He has almost completely stopped eating outside food. “We can insist on boiled water if we go somewhere. Most food items either use boiled or heated water except chutney. So it is a problematic dish. We have no idea what water is used in it and it is neither properly heated nor boiled,” Vishal points out.
“Early diagnosis and Vishal’s will power saved him”
“Just like how golden hour is crucial for heart attack victims, early diagnosis before the condition sets in is crucial for people with APML,” says Dr Satish Kumar, Consultant Hematologist and Hemato-Oncologist, Manipal Hospital, Yeshwanthpur, Bengaluru. APML is a rare subvariant of Acute Myeloid Leukimia (AML). It is a condition where white blood cells accumulate in the bone marrow and end up affecting the entire body.
“APML is not only rare but is also a very aggressive variant of AML. But ironically as per clinical history, it is also the most curable if we start treatment early,” says Dr Satish Kumar.
He also recollects how Vishal slipped into a coma for a couple of days during the treatment which had them worried. “But he bounced back and now he comes annually to monitor his progress,” Dr Satish Kumar adds.