Bibin Raj was only 11 in 2015 when he was told he had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, but the pupil was determined not to let the disease limit his dreams.
This week, Bibin, now 17, made his family and Gems Our Own Indian School in Dubai proud after achieving a 97 per cent average in his Central Board of Secondary Education grade 12 results.
The journey was not easy and the pupil spent days studying online in hospital rooms while undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Dubai and India.
"I was ecstatic when I saw my results because I did not expect to get above 92 per cent," Bibin said. “It turned out way better than my expectations."
The pupil scored 99 per cent in English, 96 per cent in economics, 97 per cent in home science, 97 per cent in marketing and 98 per cent in mass media.
“There were a lot of unexpected factors weighing in which were beyond my control so I wasn’t too optimistic before the results," he said.
Bibin said he would have expected to get 97 per cent if the exams were written but CBSE boards were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the absence of exams, pupils were awarded grades based on factors such as grade 10, 11 and 12 scores, practical and project work, as well as the historical performance of the school.
"The factors were varied so I tried not to get my hopes up,” he said.
For Bibin, managing studies alongside treatment and extra-curricular activities as the school’s council president was a balancing act.
"It was a lot of stress for me as there were a lot of things on my plate,” he said.
“I had a lot of extracurricular activities and the academics helped me to stay afloat and kept me distracted.
"Since this cancer is found in bones it's all over the body and pain is prevalent. I have learnt to manage it with medication and exercise."
I don’t let my disease set limitations on me. I have always tried to stand out from the crowd and tried to be the best in everything.”
He said he missed the social aspect of being in school and having a support system. Being at school helped his mental wellbeing, he said.
Bibin has an interest in social work and he founded a non-profit organisation called The Smile Guild which focuses on fighting the social stigma around mental health. He received the Diana Award in recognition of his humanitarian efforts.
He also co-founded Umeed, which means 'hope' in English, a non-profit that organises blood donation, food collection drives, walkathons, clean-up drives and other initiatives.
Bibin has received treatment in the form of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiotherapy since the disease was diagnosed.
Ewing's Sarcoma is a rare cancerous tumour that grows in bones or the soft tissue around them and tends to affect people aged between 10 and 20.
In Bibin's case, the cancer relapsed in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic and he received treatment at Al Zahra hospital until August of last year. Then, he moved to moved his home town of Jalandhar in India where he is being treated at the American Oncology Institute.
"Having a good support system of family, friends and teachers helped me balance everything,” he said.
His teachers gave him extra classes to help him catch up with his studies when he was not well enough to attend a class.
His friends and peers helped by taking care of his tasks and duties when he was unwell.
The pupil said he did not follow a traditional approach to studies.
"I do not sit for long hours and I try my best to pay attention in class and understand a concept on the spot,” he said.
After that, he devotes the weekend to studying and revising school work.
In his spare time, he enjoys playing badminton and football, reading and participating in Model United Nations sessions.
Bibin is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment in India but said his health has improved.
With school over, he will take a gap year and apply for scholarships to head to university next year.
He plans to study international relations at the University of Toronto in Canada next year.