Neelam Patani: A feat greater than Mount Everest

January 25, 2024

In early 2023, Neelam Patani and her sister were preparing for the biggest challenge of their lives—trekking to Everest Base Camp. This was Neelam’s celebration for turning 50; another adventure to tick off the bucket list. Every step along the way was booked and paid for. They were counting down the days to finally put their gruelling exercise regime to good use.

Little did Neelam know, she was to encounter an obstacle greater than Everest—a brain and lung cancer diagnosis.

One month before Neelam was due to leave, she started experiencing painful headaches.

“I thought the headaches I was having for the past three weeks was anxiety about joining a new office and a new team at work, and I didn’t pay much attention to it,” Neelam says.

But the symptoms didn’t subside. Neelam started to deteriorate quickly, experiencing confusion and regularly walking into objects around the house. So, she booked an appointment with her family doctor who subsequently booked Neelam in for a CT scan.

After the CT scan, Neelam was told by the doctor to go directly to the emergency department. “We didn’t know it at the time, but the CT scan found a tumour,” Neelam says.

But this wasn’t the only surprise for Neelam. The cancer, while being initially found in the brain, had started in her lungs. “It was a big shock because I was in the best shape of my life. I had been doing all this intense exercise for Everest Base Camp and never once was I out of breath during training,” she says.

Neelam underwent brain surgery, where surgeons successfully removed most of the tumour. However, she still required extensive radiation therapy to remove the remaining cancer cells in her brain.

“In a matter of six weeks I had brain surgery, five sessions of radiation, and was then scheduled in for my lung surgery where the tumour was. Because I was in good shape overall, they could do this aggressively,” Neelam says.

Thankfully, the treatment and surgery went well for Neelam, who couldn’t believe her luck. “I am on chemotherapy which has some side effects – but nothing I can’t handle,” Neelam says.

It was Neelam’s surgeon who suggested the Wellspring Exercise Program at Birmingham Gilgan House. Neelam liked that she could get back into exercising again while having an experienced professional watch over her, with a tailored program to match her recovery needs.

“The exercise program reignited my passion for exercise. I finally felt in control of my own body again,” Neelam says.

Neelam understood the importance of making the most out of Wellspring programs, including programs for her husband who was her primary caregiver during this time. “It was a big shift for him, too. When my family went back to India, he was the one handling everything. He joined Wellspring’s drum circle, which helped him to open up to his friends again,” Neelam says.

All things considered; Neelam says she is doing well now. “Joining Wellspring was a great way for me to get back into the world, and now that my CT scans are clear, I can start planning things again!”

Neelam might not have made it to Everest Base Camp. But often in life, our biggest mountains are metaphors for other challenges. For Neelam, her mountain was her cancer diagnosis, and while she is still descending the slopes, she conquered the summit.

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