Achintya Krishnan’s first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was going smoothly. He enjoyed his classes and playing cards, basketball and hanging out with his buddies. But in late November 2019, something wasn’t right. He had felt lethargic for about a month. He assumed it was because he was a “little bit out of shape.” But eventually, he suffered from mild headaches, and it became harder to concentrate on his studies. He struggled through a Wednesday exam and decided, “OK, that’s enough. I should go see the doctor.” That Friday morning, he saw the on-campus clinic doctor, who ordered a blood test because she thought Achintya had mononucleosis. Around 6:00 that evening, he learned his blood counts were shockingly low and was told to go to the ER.
Naturally, he “got a little freaked out” and pointedly asked the doctor, “Am I going to die?” She tried to be reassuring, urging him to get checked out immediately. It took Achintya a half hour to collect himself and then proceeded to the UW hospital. The next day, doctors peppered Achintya with questions, and he underwent a battery of tests, including a bone marrow biopsy to confirm the presence of cancer. Achintya, his parents and brother, who made the trip to Madison from his hometown of Racine, were stunned. Emotions ranging from horror to anger to utter helplessness flooded Achintya, and he cried a “good amount of time.” His family helped calm Achintya, and by the end of the day, the biopsy confirmed he had leukemia.
On Sunday, classmates and close family friends visited Achintya, which he says was “huge in terms of me being able to compose myself and take my mind off things.” He returned to Racine the following day, and his family decided to go to the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center because it was closer to home. On Tuesday, they met Dr. Ehab Atallah, a hematologist and specialist in medical oncology, who helped relieve the tension by joking about him and Achintya’s dad being bald.
Dr. Atallah and his team provided phenomenal care as Achintya endured months of intense chemotherapy. He is so grateful to Dr. Atallah, the nurses and physician assistants, not only for their frank and honest assessments, but also because it was nice “to have good people to talk to in the midst of such a traumatic incident.” It was especially helpful at the start, he says, because it took “a while to register that you have cancer” and it was “definitely comforting to see those familiar faces.”
After one month of chemotherapy, Achintya learned his cancer was in remission. That day, he says, “was definitely one of the best days that I’ve ever experienced. The only day that would be better is when my chemo is done.” That day is not far off; he will complete his maintenance treatments in a year.
Achintya is doing well and is back in school part-time, anticipating graduation in two years. With a degree in applied mathematics and astronomy, he wants to follow a “research pathway” to graduate school, hopeful to get into academia or a research lab setting.
That he can look to the future can be attributed to the dedication and excellence of Dr. Atallah’s team. While undergoing his intense chemotherapy treatment in spring 2020, Achintya knew he wanted to do something to show his gratitude. His “mind was wandering” because he could binge watch only so much TV.
The idea of a golf outing popped into his head. An avid golfer since middle school, he thought an outing would be an effective and fun way to give back, though the COVID-19 lockdown delayed the event until August. After a successful first year, he organized another outing in 2021 and anticipates hosting an event again this summer. So far, Achintya’s “Cutting Cancer” golf outings have raised more than $20,000 for cancer research at the Froedtert & MCW cancer network.
While planning these events, he questioned the impact he would make. After all, cancer research takes millions of dollars so “what is some guy putting 10 grand together going to do?” But he came to realize that “one person isn’t going to change anything, but if everybody puts in a little bit, that slowly starts to build up over time, and that can have a lasting impact. There are just so many ways to make a difference.” From improving patient experiences to providing resources for patient support groups, he adds, there’s “really no such thing as too little.”
Every contribution helps push medicine toward the goal of ridding the world of cancer. And this grateful cancer survivor aims to do his part.