Take 2 at 27
Cancer-free and Grateful to BIDMC, Dhaval Oza Focuses on Giving Back
Dhaval Oza will always remember his 25th birthday as a life-changing day. But it wasn’t a delicious cake, an extravagant party, or a special gift that made the day so memorable. On January 13, 2016, Oza’s celebration was abruptly interrupted by a sobering call from his physician. His biopsy results were in. He had cancer.
Oza, a young scientist, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called primary mediastinal germ cell disease, which grew from reproductive cells, yet presented as a large mass in his chest. The size of Oza’s tumor was problematic at 12 centimeters, but its positioning was the most concerning of all; the malignant growth touched his pericardium, the delicate membrane that surrounds the heart. “The diagnosis took me by surprise,” recalls Oza. “Cancer cast a dark cloud over my life. I felt hopeless.”
Oza’s primary care physician referred him to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center because of its world-renowned cancer and cardiovascular care. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, overseen by oncologist Glenn Bubley, M.D., director of genitourinary medical oncology and co-director of the Prostate Cancer Center at BIDMC. His tumor then required a long, specialized surgery called a sternotomy. Expert cardiothoracic surgeon Sidhu Gangadharan, M.D., chief of thoracic surgery and interventional pulmonology at BIDMC, performed this surgery to successfully remove Oza’s tumor.
After more than a year of treatment and countless visits to the medical center, Oza is cancer-free and grateful to BIDMC. His journey back to complete health, however, is ongoing. Due to the location of his cancer and his surgery, he has experienced a number of complications, including pericarditis, the inflammation of the pericardium, which was treated by BIDMC’s Michael Gavin, M.D., M.P.H. This dangerous condition is caused by fluid build-up that is exceedingly painful, and Oza was readmitted to the medical center. “When my doctors said they feared a recurrence, it was an emotional roller coaster,” says Oza, who is still being treated at BIDMC. Another side effect he experienced is seldom talked about. “There were sleepless nights, depression, and survivors’ guilt,” he says. “I kept thinking, why did I get to live? It’s not fair.”
Cancer has a way of reconfiguring your perspective. I am now much more focused on what I can do to help those who are less fortunate.
Oza, who moved to the U.S. from India when he was 21, is a scientist at Alnylam, a biotech company that develops novel therapies for rare conditions. “As a biologist, I work on research that will revolutionize the way many diseases are treated,” says Oza, whose interview at the company was the same day he started his third round of chemotherapy at BIDMC. Despite the many obstacles he has faced, Oza remains focused on his work—which has taken on a new, deeper meaning since his cancer diagnosis—and his relationship with his fiancée, Reema Bhatt. The couple has been together since they met at Northeastern University in 2012.
Now that he is on a road to health, Oza has made it his mission to help others. “Cancer has a way of reconfiguring your perspective. I am now much more focused on what I can do to help those who are less fortunate,” says Oza, who joined the Livestrong Foundation to connect with other young patients with cancer and survivors. “I read a million blogs when I was sick, and was so inspired by people’s resilience,” says Oza. “Now it’s my chance to give other people hope that they, too, can overcome cancer.” Inspired by his desire to do even more, Oza decided to create a fundraiser to benefit BIDMC. He scheduled his event for January 13, 2018—his 27th birthday and exactly two years after his diagnosis. Fittingly, he called the event Take 2, to represent his second chance at life. He invited family members, colleagues, and close friends—including Julie Foiadelli, R.N., who cared for Oza throughout his chemotherapy treatment at the medical center. The event was successful, with more than 50 attendees and proceeds going to BIDMC’s Cancer Research Fund.
“All in all, I have gained so much more than I have lost, thanks to BIDMC,” says Oza, who today is in the process of starting a blog to help and inspire patients with cancer. In addition to working full-time at Alnylam, he is playing tennis—his favorite hobby—and planning a second benefit for the medical center. He and Bhatt are also busy planning another very special event: their wedding, which will be held in December 2018 in India. “If I can make a difference to someone else who is suffering, the world will be a better place.”