A young Indian boxer was flown to Abu Dhabi for life-saving stomach surgery after doctors discovered more than 50 abdominal tumours.
Rakshith Doreswamygowda, 20, from Bengaluru, first reported stomach and back pain to his doctors in 2019.
The aspiring athlete underwent chemotherapy in India to reduce the size of the growths, but was referred to the US for specialist to carry out an operation.
He had to wait more than two years as he tried to acquire a visa to travel for the operation.
When he was unable to obtain a US visa, doctors transferred him to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where a team of surgeons removed the tumours on May 10 – Rakshith’s 20th birthday.
The long journey was worth it because, three months on, Rakshith is returning to the gym to resume training and reignite his dreams of becoming a professional fighter.
“My heart broke with the news of my diagnosis and lack of treatment options,” said Rakshith, who was 17 when his cancer was diagnosed.
All dreams of becoming a boxer and going to university were in ruins, he said.
“I’m the only son to my parents who have sacrificed so much to give me the best possible chance in life," he said.
"I didn’t want to give up because I am my family’s hope and I have so much I want to do.
"I searched online and found a doctor in the US who is an expert in this type of cancer and wrote to her for help.”
He initially thought his back pain was caused by playing sports at school and ignored it to focus on his final exams.
When his health did not improve, tests at a hospital in Bengaluru revealed he was suffering from a rare condition called desmoplastic small round cell tumours (DSRCT).
Young fighter beats travel restrictions to get treatment
Delaying his surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in the US meant he had to endure more than 20 gruelling chemotherapy sessions, almost double the normal amount.
He managed to travel before the UAE imposed travel restrictions owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I was very depressed at my inability to go to the US for treatment,” said Rakshith.
“The next challenge was getting to the UAE.
"Luckily my uncle and I managed to get seats on one of the last planes to the Emirates from India before flights were suspended due to the pandemic.”
A team of surgeons worked for more than 16 hours, removing more than 50 tumours from his abdomen.
There were two particularly large and complex growths around his pancreas and in his pelvic region, near his bladder and rectum.
After removing all the visible tumours, the team used a single dose of heated chemotherapy drugs delivered directly to his abdomen to destroy any cancer cells that may have remained, to prevent them from developing into more growths.
After the successful operation, Rakshith returned to India where he continues to receive follow-up care.
Once fully recovered, he plans to study microbiology at university and pursue his dream of becoming a boxer to prove to the world that cancer is not a death sentence.
“Cancer taught me so many life lessons,” he said.
“I endured a lot of pain over the last three years and I am so grateful to Dr [Yasir] Akmal and the whole team who treated me with such kindness while I was in Abu Dhabi.
“I always felt that they had time for me and my silly questions.
“I hope to repay the gift of life he has given me one day.
“I want to box to prove to society that despite having had cancer, I can come back stronger.”
Sportsman wants to inspire others
The prognosis of DSRCT patients is generally poor, with an overall survival rate of between 30 to 55 per cent despite chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and aggressive surgical resection.
It is not a hereditary condition.
As a parting gift, the hospital presented him with a pair of new boxing gloves to help him when he returns to the sport he loves.
“Despite the grave situation he was facing, he had a great attitude and was very involved in his care, doing a lot of research to find the right treatment and the right doctors,” said Dr Yasir Akmal, a surgical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
“His story is also one of physicians coming together not just across disciplines here at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, but across borders.
“I’m sure that, after beating one of the most formidable opponents there is, he will go on to achieve great things.”