High performer in marks and spirit

ICSE and ISC exam results throw up stories of success in the face of extreme adversity

By Jhinuk Mazumdar in Calcutta
  • Published 15.05.18
Neelangshu Saha

Calcutta: The weekend before his ISC mathematics paper, Neelangshu Saha was in hospital for chemotherapy. When the examination results were declared at 3pm on Monday, he was undergoing a PET scan in a Mumbai hospital.

Neelangshu scored 84 in mathematics, each mark bearing testimony to his effort in writing a paper for three hours after having been discharged from hospital just the night before.

The student of Adamas International School in Belghoria did even better in terms of aggregate - 86.75 per cent - after battling a relapse in the middle of the examination. His individual scores are 78 in English, 88 in physics, 82 in chemistry and 97 in computer science.

The 18-year-old had been diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer originating in the muscles, in 2016. He seemed to be in remission after treatment, but the cancer returned in two years.

Doctors had told Neelangshu that he wouldn't be able to write an examination immediately after chemotherapy, but he wasn't ready to give up.

"I had already lost a year during the first spell of illness (with 33 cycles of chemotherapy and 51 rounds of radiation) and could not write the examination along with batchmates I had studied with for 10 years. That was a major push for me. My mother encouraged me to do so," Neelangshu said from Mumbai.

The relapse was diagnosed two days after the teenager wrote his physics paper. His mother went to Mumbai to consult doctors on postponing treatment till the ISC examination was over.

"Doctors at the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai said treatment was more important than writing the examination. We then decided to get chemotherapy done in a Calcutta hospital," said mother Aditi Roy, an economics teacher.

"It was a Monday, the day of his mathematics paper. He was so weak that he could barely open his eyes. But he showed tremendous mental strength and went to school," Aditi recounted.

Despite the side effects of chemotherapy like nausea and not being able to sit for long hours, Neelangshu wanted to write the examination with his classmates.

"Chemotherapy would leave me feeling very hot and I could not continue in the examination hall. My school then arranged for me to write the examination in an air-conditioned room. Had it not been for my school's support and that of my teachers, I would not have been able to write the exam," Neelangshu said.

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Neelangshu had been an athlete with two gold medals in sprinting events in his last school sports meet in 2015. "The way he has fought illness is amazing, especially to write an exam between chemotherapy sessions," said Mittra Sinha Roy, principal of Adamas International School.

A swelling in his left leg last January was the first sign of a relapse. "It (alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma) is a rare cancer with an unpredictable outcome. If it has not spread to the lungs and liver and is limited to the local area and site of origin, there are chances of the cancer being cured. The boy's willpower is inspirational," said oncologist Gautam Mukhopadhyay, although he hasn't treated Neelangshu.