Living with Cancer: From Why Me? to Lucky Me

Abhay Nirav & Garimo

Abhay & Garimo

Many people have their glimpses when they are very ill.

When you are ill, your energy is low, and a few things come up only when your energy is low. Otherwise it works like a weight; it doesn't allow things to come up. Have you watched? It is beautiful. It has its own space that no health can give you.

I am not against health. I am saying that even illness, if you are alert, can give you some spaces which are beautiful. And if you can use illness, of course you can use health. Then health can become a blessing. Always remember that everything can be used, has to be used.
Osho: Be Realistic: Plan for a Miracle

I have cancer but it doesn’t have me. I have cancer but I’m alive and enjoying my life as never before. This sickness, which has become a constant companion – sometimes silent and sometimes extremely noisy – has given me gifts I had never thought possible. When I started out on this journey it was with a Why me?

The first sign

Fifteen years ago, at the age of 32, I found a tumor in my left groin. At the time I was living in southern Germany, where I was born and grew up. I lived in a big farmhouse together with my girlfriend and daughter. It was a life I hadn’t enjoyed or wanted for many years but I was too confused and scared to get out. My way to deal with it was lots of beer, lots of cigarettes, and lots of work....

The tumor was operated on and was diagnosed as Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a slow-growing cancer of the lymphatic system. The doctors wanted to follow up with chemotherapy or radiation, but I refused. Just like that, in a flash, I needed and wanted to change so many things in my life – and I hoped that this perhaps would take care of the cancer as well.


I changed my life radically; I stopped smoking and drinking and became a vegetarian. Until then my diet had consisted mainly of meat and bread. I left my girlfriend and my daughter and gave up my job. This diagnosis had suddenly shaken the pillars of my existence; it was: do something now or forget about this life.

I started with therapy and Osho meditations. My elder brother was a sannyasin and had told me about Osho’s approach. I experimented with diets, alternative treatments and bodywork. I was determined to find the meaning of my life and the source of my illness. I stayed in bed for 4-5 hours after waking up each morning – just watching my body, watching what was going on inside. I touched and pressed certain points, discovered body sensations and connections I had never noticed before.

Then I spent six weeks at the Osho Resort in Pune, and after my return went back to school to get trained in IT. But in the middle of my studies another tumor was discovered, in the same place as the first one. Again I was operated on and this time I was ready to be treated with radiation. After all, I had done everything I could; I had changed all that I knew of at this point.

What do I really want

After finishing my studies and before starting my new job I again went to Pune. This time Pune really got me. Back in Munich, ready to start my job, I accidentally met my brother on the street and we chatted a bit: “How are you doing? How was it in Pune?” He asked me what I wanted to do next. Spontaneously I heard myself say, “Actually I want to go back to Pune.” He said, “So just go.” And I did.

I declined the job, took my last money and went to Pune. I continued with therapy, worked and meditated there for almost seven years. I went to Germany regularly to make some money and for my hospital check-ups. For seven years nothing showed up in these check-ups.

In and out of treatment

And then, five years ago, a new tumor developed in my belly below the navel, the size of a little child’s head. This tumor was squeezing the veins coming from my legs; it caused constant pain and three life-threatening thromboses. I went straight back to Germany and started a mild chemotherapy with tablets and then radiation till the tumor disappeared. Almost immediately new tumors came up – in the chest, neck and armpits. Another chemotherapy followed during which new tumors appeared.

Seeing that it wasn’t working, I stopped all treatment and decided just to watch what was going on. I finally ended up with thirty tumors ranging from 1-10 cm radius in size. Life became impossible without painkillers. The tumors started changing from low malignant into high malignant. Urgent treatment was needed, and last November I started on six months of heavy chemotherapy and radiation.

A time of transformation

These six months turned out to be the most intense, beautiful and transformative process in this long journey with cancer. All the years of listening to Osho now turned into my reality. Garimo, my girlfriend, has accompanied me in this last year with all her love, care, tremendous patience and strength. When I was sometimes drowning in pain and despair she brought me back into the present. One of our jokes for such situations was, “Can’t be so bad, I am still alive.” One day, sitting in the car on the way back from the hospital and listening to an Osho CD on celebrating life, we heard:

Everything that you do should be expressive of you; it should have your signature on it. Then life becomes a continuous celebration. Even if you fall sick and you are lying in bed, you will make those moments of lying in bed moments of beauty and joy, moments of relaxation and rest, moments of meditation, moments of listening to music or to poetry. There is no need to be sad that you are sick. You should be happy that everybody is in the office and you are in your bed like a king, relaxing – somebody is preparing tea for you, the samovar is singing a song, a friend has offered to come and play flute for you.... These things are more important than any medicine. When you are sick, call a doctor. But more important, call those who love you because there is no medicine more important than love. Call those who can create beauty, music, poetry around you because there is nothing that heals like a mood of celebration. Medicine is the lowest kind of treatment.

Make everything creative, make the best out of the worst – that's what I call the art. And if a man has lived his whole life making every moment and every phase of it a beauty, a love, a joy, naturally his death is going to be the ultimate peak of his whole life's endeavor.

Osho: Beyond Enlightenment

A beloved reminder

Garimo didn’t play the flute, but she constantly reminded me to be the watcher, no matter how painful the process seemed to be. The key was to always find the positive even in such a situation, to find something to learn – and this has been a great experience.

These heavy therapies not only destroy the cancer cells, they attack the healthy cells as well. All the fine sensations like the taste buds, the sense of smell, the vision, the short-term memory, the balance in walking, the fine sensitive sensations of the skin and the nerves, moods – all get affected, and except for the eyebrows and eyelashes all the hair on my head and body was gone, leaving me utterly naked. What a feeling! Garimo had to blend all the food for a while as I was only able to swallow liquids.

During these times it is such a challenge to practice that I am not the body/mind. When the whole body is in pain, all your energy is depleted, and even going to the toilet becomes a major affair. I learned to let go and try to find the place inside that is not affected by it, that is healthy – even though looking inside is not really what you want to do in these moments.... It also became so clear what the mind likes to do the most: to avoid the now and to travel into the future. Often I got so afraid of my future, of suffering, not being able to work anymore, not being able to make a living.... What a joy then to come back to the moment, to see that fear is always in the future and not in the now. The now has such a simplicity, such ease, with nothing to achieve and the joy of just being.

A gift of existence

It was also a time of re-educating myself. The mind was still in its old tracks and went about life in the old way, but the body couldn’t do it anymore. It needed all my awareness – and many reminders from my beloved – not to cooperate with the mind but rather to take care of myself every moment, to start loving myself and accepting and respecting the new circumstances.

When I look back I realize that the cancer has kept me on track. That is why I now can say, “Lucky me.” During the last year I had to distinguish every moment what really matters for me. The old values changed, it was like a shift happening inside from doing or having, to being. Many things I had read and heard from Osho became a living experience. Today I can say: I got cancer as a gift from existence which has taught me to live each moment as joyfully and totally as possible, not to fight with it, not to waste it, and to have a good laugh about it all!

Abhay Nirav