Arijit Guha is a 31-year-old who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. He is pursuing a doctoral degree in sustainability at Arizona State University. He recently got married. And, since February, he has sold tee-shirts to pay for his own chemotherapy.
Guha has Stage 4 colon cancer, a diagnosis that comes with an 8.1 percent survival rate. While he does have health insurance, a student plan through Arizona State, it has a lifetime limit of $300,000 in medical expenses. Guha has spent all of that, largely on chemotherapy sessions that cost $11,000 each.
In February, Guha launched a Web site called Poop Strong – a play on the Lance Armstrong cancer non-profit, Live Strong – where he fundraises to cover his medical costs. He sells funny tee shirts – “Keep Calm and Poop Strong” is one slogan – and items donated from friends and family, like hand-crocheted cowls from a friend and her mother.
“My friend once said what I’m doing seems like the world’s most important bake sale,” Guha says. “It sometimes feels like this weird joke, that I’m selling tee shirts to pay for chemotherapy.”
Guha never expected to be in this position. He’s grew up in an upper-middle class family, and graduated in 2003 from Carleton College, a top-ranked liberal arts college in Minnesota. He then pursued a master’s degree from Clark University in Massachusetts.
The colon cancer diagnosis was a complete surprise. Guha had been on a trip to India, to visit family members with his wife when he started getting sharp stomach pains. ”It’s inevitably the case that you get some sort of stomach bug there,” he says. “But I remember telling my wife, I should get this checked when we get back.”
Test after test came up negative, until he visited a gastrologist who made his diagnosis: Guha had a 6-centimeter tumor obstructing his colon. Even then, it didn’t seem that bad: Doctors thought they could go into the colon and easily cut out the obstruction. Guha was scheduled for surgery immediately. He would joke about how this would be his “one week with cancer.”
The procedure did not, however, go as planned. Once surgery got underway, doctors saw that smaller tumors had overtaken Guha’s abdominal lining. Those tumors were too pervasive to be removed surgically. So Guha began what would be 18 months of chemotherapy and additional procedures. One doctor began talking about the possibility of palliative care.
“The past year and a half has really been surreal,” Guha says. “There’s just been a lot of shock. When I went into surgery last February, I didn’t expect any of this stuff.”
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