My Tribute to Kethan | Arriving in Malaysia

My beloved Kethan lost his fight to leukemia on July 11 this past summer. It is why I am here in Malaysia, and it is why I am traveling to Penang on Friday to speak at TEDxWeldQuay on Saturday. In many ways, this is a very private story, which is why I am so thankful to the family to be able to tell it so very publicly. I speak so loudly for Kethan, because I know that what he taught me can inform us all… 

IMG_0463I was met at the Kuala Lumpur airport yesterday morning by Kethan’s Auntie Anusha and Uncle Sri, after a 26 1/2 hour flight, via Doha, Qatar. Although I was quite jet-lagged, yesterday was truly an amazing and special day. I had the privilege of meeting so many in Kethan’s family. I met both Sumithra’s parents, as well as Lokesh’s parents. Interestingly, they both live about 6 doors from each other in a lovely neighborhood on the outskirts of the city centre. As difficult as Kethan’s passing has been for his mom and dad, I could tell that his passing was even harder for his grandparents. They were each very thankful for what LLS and Pfizer did for Kethan this past spring. They know it almost got Kethan to CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) for the next phase of his journey and one that might have long-term therapeutic effects. They also know it gave their children a little more time with their son, to have milkshakes and see Tim Burton.

Kethan’s paternal grandmother shared a particularly touching and interesting tidbit yesterday that I want to share with each of you. Although I am Christian, I have learned much about Hinduism in the past day. I learned from Mrs. Durraiappah about Ganesha. According to Wikipedia, “Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha’s elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies.”

IMG_0505So, the part of the Ganesha story and tradition that is relevant to Kethan’s story is this. July 11, the day of his passing, was the star of Ganesha. The way to think about this is actually from Alice in Wonderland. The mad hatter always celebrated his “un-birthdays,” the day in each month that would be his birthday in the actual month of his birth. So, it is with the Hindu gods. The star appears on one day in each month that is their un-birthday. Apparently, yesterday, the day of my arrival was also the star of Ganesha, just like July 11.

I will never be able to explain adequately the link between Kethan and I, a link that started during his life, and a link that continues to make itself apparent in his passing. He taught me that there are many reasons not to act; but you have to ignore them all and act.

The best way to capture this is something his maternal grandfather said to me yesterday. Mr. Thavarajah commented about Kethan’s Story (the first version). He pointed out that if you were to start at the end then you would fully understand the magic of Kethan. If you think about the last scene, with all the kids, and Kethan and I, we were all smiling, especially Kethan. He had that big, beaming smile that he always flashed. Mr. Thavarajah pointed out this smile was on the face of a boy that had known 7 1/2 years of cancer in his short 11 year life. 3 relapses, brutal radiation, a stem cell transplant, and the magic of Inotuzumab. Through all this, he never ever stopped smiling.

May we all smile a smile today for Kethan. I feel truly privileged to be here in Malaysia, honoring not an end, but instead a beginning, just like Ganesha.