When I first got injured, it was really difficult to accept my situation. I had no idea how I was going to move forward like this, and I contemplated often if life was even worth living anymore. I remember reading an article during that time that said that there was a high suicide rate among people with spinal cord injuries.
I wasn't very surprised to read this because I also marveled at the idea of ending it all, and not having to deal with this anymore, but luckily I had my cousin Vishal in my life who played a significant role to help me move forward. After my accident, Vishal immediately assumed the role of being my big brother. He was 4 years older than me, and I remember he would tell me, "Little brother, you're going to get through this."
I really respected him because he was also dealing with a tough situation himself. He was dealing with a very rare type of cancer called Synovial Sarcoma, which was deemed incurable. He had been dealing with this since he was diagnosed at 18 years old. He went through years of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries, but no matter what he did the cancer kept coming back. However, regardless of what he had to go through, he had a fervor for living life that was unmatched by anybody else I knew. Because of this, I am glad that I had him in my corner.
There was never a dull moment when you were around Vishal. I remember in the early days in the hospital I had to wear this white plastic brace around my torso after my spinal surgery. Friends and family would write well wishes and sign their names on my brace like it was a cast. And to lighten the mood during a very drab situation, he decided to write the words "KICK ME" really large on the back of my brace with a permanent marker. I didn't even realize he wrote that until a nurse saw it and asked me if I really wanted her to kick me. I was confused at her question, and then realized what he had done and couldn't help but burst out in laughter. I couldn't believe he had the audacity to do that in such a situation, but that's the kind of role he played in my life. Aside from joking around, he was always encouraging me to value the life that I had.
Vishal would often tell me how much he valued every moment he had in his life. Doctors were always telling him that he had a very limited life to live, and because of that he truly valued the time he had here. He asked me once, "How long do you think you're going to live for?" And I never thought about this question before, but I knew I didn't want to live a long life at that time, so I replied "I don't know, maybe 50." He looked at me with a straight face and said, "That's a long time, I don't think I'm going to live past 35." He often used his situation in comparison to mine to convey to me that despite my situation, I had a longer life ahead of me than him. But instead, I would think that I had a shittier situation than him because I had to deal with it for a longer time. In my eyes, his situation wasn't as obvious as mine so during the times when he was in remission, he was able to live his life normally. And to be honest, despite what I knew about his situation, I still expected him to always be around, until he finally wasn't.
In December 2010, the doctors told Vishal that the cancer was back for a 7th time in 13 years and they no longer could provide him any treatment. His body went through a lot after all the surgeries and treatments over the years, and the doctors felt that they could not invade his body anymore. Two months later on Valentine's Day 2011, his time in this world expired. It had been four and half years since I had my accident, and everything he had told me over the years became even louder in my mind.
He told me that he didn't think he was going to live past 35, and he died a few weeks before he was supposed to turn 31. After his 30th birthday, less than a year before his passing, I remember asking him, "How does it feel to be 30? Do you feel old?" And he responded, "Are you kidding me? I made it to 30!! I'm ecstatic!" Most people who turn 30 don't like the idea of leaving their 20's, but he saw it as an achievement. He was grateful that he made it to this milestone of an age. I was always amazed at his attitude towards life, and after he passed I vowed from that day forward that I was going to approach my life with the same attitude.
Now I don't think I have the same attitude as him about age as I continue to get older, but I have developed an overall appreciation for life that I wouldn't have had without him. I've learned that with the right attitude life can be amazing no matter what your situation is. I now view life as an adventure by looking forward to the wonders of each day because there are so many unknown possibilities that can happen. While I do still have bad days and face negative emotions, I have come to truly realize that all of it is temporary including life itself.
And when you truly realize how temporary everything is, you understand the value that your life has. And that value is precious.