(Editor’s Note: Pritam Khalsa is a cherished lifetime member of the Kundalini yoga community. Please take a moment to read her story below and contribute to her medical fund if you can. Blessings!)
I’ve known Pritham and her family for most of my life. She went to school with me in India when we were kids and her mother, Gurutej Kaur, is an incredible Kundalini Yoga teacher in our community. I knew that Pritham had been battling leukemia, but had heard she was in remission with a great outlook. It came as a total heart-wrenching shock when I heard that her leukemia had come back full force. Please take a moment to read her story, and if you feel compelled, click through to support her through this incredible challenge in her life.
For more than three decades, this adventurous soul has charted a singular course through life. Whether she was studying at the foot of the Himalayas, earning a graduate degree from Antioch University, working with the Peace Corps in Honduras, or excelling at a top consulting firm in the nation’s capital, she brought compassion, intellect, and focus to her work and the rich friendships she developed along the way.
Her unwavering desire to serve others led her to osteopathic medical school, where she hoped to become a doctor who melded Eastern and Western disciplines together. During her second year, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare and hyper-aggressive strain of leukemia. In an instant, her journey changed course.
Now she is in the fight of her life as she seeks a cure. Her path is difficult and the process is daunting on every level. Though she is blessed to have the love and support of her family and friends, she now needs the help of her extended community.
Together we can assist our dearest Pritham to overcome this illness, so she can move forward in her life with health and grace.
I was just two years into my dream of becoming osteopath when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CCL), a rare and hyper-aggressive strain of blood cancer. I couldn’t have been more shocked. Having spent a lifetime devoutly practicing yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism, I believed that my chances of contracting this life threatening disease were close to zero.
But now I’m dealing with it on a daily basis. Though this not a path I would have chosen, I am gradually realizing that through this ordeal I will be blessed to experience deeper and different aspects of God within my life.
The divine has always had an all-important presence in my journey. I grew up in an American Sikh community where we followed a healthy lifestyle that included a vegetarian diet and a two-hour early morning yoga and meditation session. These practices have stayed with me and set me up for a lifetime of conscientious care-taking of my mind, body, and spirit.
When I was a young girl, I was lucky enough to spend two years attending a Sikh boarding school at the foot of the Himalayas. It was a formative period for me. I learned how I was blessed with opportunity, which fostered a desire within me to help others.
After graduating from Oberlin College, becoming a licensed massage therapist, and earning a degree in clinical and organizational psychology from Antioch University, I was able to offer my first significant service to the wider world by joining the Peace Corps, which took me to the Honduras for almost three years. While working in a healthcare center with local doctors and nurses promoting health education, and traveling with them to surrounding villages to distribute medicine, immunize children, and check on tuberculosis patients, I discovered how much fulfillment I got from helping people prevent illness and restore health.
Upon my return to the States, I focused my efforts on implementing systemic health programs. I earned a coveted position in the strategic planning division at Booz Allen Hamilton, a top management consulting firm in Washington D.C. Even though I enjoyed the work, I began to feel a strong desire to help people more directly. Mixed with this realization was a growing aspiration to learn how to meld together the best elements of Eastern and Western medicine.
After much soul searching, I began applying to osteopathic colleges. This way, I would have all the rights of an MD, but with the additional training focused on healing through bone, muscle, and fascia manipulation. In 2009, I was accepted into Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine in Phoenix, AZ. A new leg to my journey towards helping others had begun; I couldn’t have been happier.
During my second year of study, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was told I needed to start chemotherapy immediately and that this would be followed by a bone marrow transplant. This news put my world into a tailspin. I had grown up with a lot of alternative medicine – acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, etc. – and felt far more comfortable with these approaches to health compared with a traditional, Westernized allopathic and drug approach. To me chemo was a poison, not a remedy.
With the help of family and friends, I started researching alternatives. I interviewed a slew of doctors, looked into various holistic treatment centers, and explored a wide range of therapies – from constitutional hydrotherapy and infrared saunas to vitamin C IVs and green tea extract. Simultaneously, I received consultations on traditional allopathic treatments from a top-tier team at MD Anderson in Houston, TX.
Unfortunately, the leukemia was progressing very quickly and outpacing my efforts to find an alternative therapy strong enough to treat it. A few months later, when I was told that I could die in a matter of weeks, I chose to receive chemotherapy. I stayed in medical school part-time during the first course of treatment, but I was becoming more aware that my dream of becoming a doctor was being turned upside down. Now I was seeking health and healing.
By the summer of 2011, I was in remission, with a very minimal amount of leukemia in my bone marrow. My outlook was hopeful. The doctors believed that my immune system could potentially deal with the last of the leukemia lingering inside me.
I did everything I could to stay in remission. I went to a raw food retreat center and continued this strict diet, even when I returned to school part-time in the fall. I was hopeful that by November, when I had my next checkup at MD Anderson, I would be disease free.
Regrettably, the diagnosis turned out to be the complete opposite. The leukemia had returned in record time, invading 90% of my bone marrow. I consulted with several CLL and bone marrow transplant specialists, hoping that there might be some alternative treatments for my condition. No luck; all of them recommended that I get a bone marrow transplant immediately. I had to quit school and stop working.
The transplant process is both risky and intense. The dangers begin with the chemotherapy and radiation pretreatments, which prepare the body for the operation. This process devastates the immune system, leaving it weak and vulnerable. Even a common cold can be fatal. The whole process involves 30 days in intensive care, followed by three months of daily treatment and monitoring. . Both the risks and the benefits are high: there is a 15% chance of dying and a 55% chance that the transplant will be curative.
The most critical time is not during the actual transplant procedure, but in the ensuing months, which are fraught with danger. Death and debilitating side effects are not uncommon if the recipient’s body doesn’t accept this new bone marrow. The post bone marrow treatments are incredibly expensive.
A week before I was set for to receive a transplant, I received some incredibly hopeful news: I have been accepted into a clinical trial of a medication that has shown miraculous results helping bring people with CLL into remission. This includes people like me, who have a difficult prognosis. This was amazingly exciting news. We will know more about the transplant at the end of this clinical trial, but this new drug would serve the pretreatment for the operation, so I wouldn’t have to undergo chemo and radiation therapy. It would also lower my risk of dying from the transplant, because my body and immune system would be strong going into the transplant rather than weakened.
This journey has fluctuated from deep despair to great hope. Your generous financial gifts would support me, so I can continue receiving treatment and fighting this deadly disease. With your aid, I hope that someday I can once again follow my calling to help others.
UPDATE: Pritham is in Texas undergoing the clinical trials. In the middle of the trials…because her immune system is compromised… Pritham developed a serious infection along with very low blood pressure and had to be hospitalized. Pritham is being treated with intravenous multi-spectrum antibiotics and pain management medications. If all goes well Pritham will be out in a couple of days and back on track with the trials.