Having no children of her own, Daksha Patel was a devoted aunt. So it was with heartache that she witnessed her great-nephew Rakesh’s three-year struggle with leukemia and his death at age 23. Her story follows Rakesh from diagnosis through the scattering of his ashes, a portion in Dallas in the country of his birth and the remainder in India, his spiritual and ancestral home.
Patel, an neonatologist, writes a clear-eyed, unembellished account that lays bare the emotional ups and downs of Rakesh’s ordeal: the excruciating headaches that led to his diagnosis, the discomfort and nausea of chemotherapy, the tedium of frequent clinic visits and hospital stays, the relief of remission and heartbreak of recurrence.
Equally affecting is Patel’s depiction of Rakesh’s adoration of his older brother, Amrish. Near the end of his life, bald and bloated from chemo, Rakesh was best man for Amrish’s traditional, four-hour wedding ceremony. A heart-rending photo shows a smiling, dark-maned Amrish with his beaming brother at his side. “I think he was the happiest person [there], next to the bride and groom,” Patel writes. Amrish donated his bone marrow in a last-ditch effort to save his dying brother.
To illustrate how Rakesh remained upbeat, Patel devotes a chapter to tweets Rakesh sent almost daily to friends and family. “He never lost his sense of humor and resolve,” she writes. “He was at peace knowing that whatever was happening to him was God’s wish.” She recalls he was fond of saying, “ALL is well!” (playing on the acronym for his illness, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and “Don’t worry about anything. Just dance.”
The story requires editing for several typos and one repeated paragraph about being cared for in the pediatric ward of a full hospital. Nonetheless, Patel’s ability to let her story’s pathos speak for itself makes this a touching and memorable reading experience.
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