“Even if for a second, we must not fume. We must burn bright,” read 27-year-old Nandu Mahadeva’s cover photo on Facebook.
In the end, even though he lost the fight against cancer, Mahadeva made sure his life was a beacon of hope for many battling the deadly disease. A native of Bharathannur in Thiruvananthapuram district, Mahadeva, who succumbed to bone cancer at a private hospital in Kozhikode Saturday, had thousands of admirers in Kerala for the way he fought his illness and motivated others to do the same through a social media collective known as ‘Athijeevanam.’
Mahadeva was diagnosed with bone cancer three years ago following a swelling on his left leg. Later, as a result of the cancer having spread fast, he had to amputate his leg. He was afflicted with cancer just as he was preparing to open a catering service with his family after finishing his higher studies. Though the disease made him despondent initially, he decided to fight it out and had even proudly written on social media once, “I have cancer and I have nothing to hide. I will treat it just like a common cold.”
Even as he went into treatment initially at the Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and later at a private hospital in Kozhikode, Mahadeva routinely updated details of his health on his social media accounts as part of his promise to be transparent and open about his fight with cancer. He also made effective use of social media platforms to generate positive messaging about the disease, exhorting those fighting it to be confident and calm. He took part in cancer awareness campaigns on television, speaking boldly about how the disease became a turning-point in his life. Under his leadership, ‘Athijeevanam’ (survival in Malayalam) took shape as a way of financially helping and motivating cancer patients. When Mahadeva once put out a request for financial resources to fund his own treatment, Rs 50 lakh was crowdfunded in less than a day.
Mahadeva was also popular for using the medium of music to tell his message. He would write and sing songs extolling the virtues of having a powerful mental spirit in battling cancer.
One of his final posts on Facebook was on the eve of Vishu on April 13 when he had returned home after a brief period in hospital. He wrote, “I was in hospital for the last 12 days. Even yesterday around this time, I needed an oxygen mask to breathe. Today, I am discharged and have reached home. Oh life, what a wonder you are. It’s the love and prayers of my dear ones helping me in my comeback”, before launching into a devotional song.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, extending his condolences, wrote on Facebook, “Instead of stumbling in front of the hurdles created by his disease, Nandu, with incomparable courage, gave the people of Kerala the confidence to fight it. He motivated the public through love and compassion. His death is a loss for the state.”