By Contributing Writer - October 08, 2019
For 22-year-old University of South Florida cybersecurity major Akshay Naik, taking steps toward independence was tremendously rewarding. It meant leaving the familiarity of his loving family and their Tampa home to move into student housing closer to USF. The third year college student welcomed the additional responsibilities of grocery shopping, cooking and doing his own laundry. He spent more time at the gym and hanging out with friends. “It was real life stuff,” said Naik.
But the normalcies of college life quickly took a turn in April 2019 when Naik noticed a small lump on the left side of his neck. Within four days, the lump grew radically, stretching from his neck to his shoulder. Although it didn’t hurt, Naik went to see his mother, who immediately knew something was wrong.
She took him to an urgent care clinic where he was given antibiotics to treat what doctor’s thought was an infection. The medicine helped reduce the swelling around his neck and brought down his fever. It was welcome news since Naik and his sister Ankita had planned to travel to India to visit their grandmother.
The siblings made the trip to Nagpur Maharashtra State, India, located near Mumbai. The pair enjoyed spending time with their family, immersing themselves into the rich Indian culture.
After returning to the United States, Naik developed a cough, which he thought was caused by the dust and pollution in India. But when his fever returned and he began having torrential night sweats and was losing weight, he made an appointment with his primary care physician. Blood work revealed his platelet counts were extremely low. A CT scan confirmed Naik had stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I can’t have cancer. I have to take care of my mom and sister,” recalled Naik after hearing the news of his cancer diagnosis.
In April, Naik began six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. He says the worst part about chemo is the saline injection. “It tastes like expired plastic, so I eat a mint to deter the taste.”
Throughout his treatments, Naik has remained committed to his education. “My studies keep me busy. School work is nerdy, but cool,” Naik said with a grin. “Coding, networks, databases and analyzing algorithms are some of my favorite things to do. I have a soft spot for math, which is what led me to pursue a degree in IT Cybersecurity at USF.”
On Sept. 28, surrounded by family and friends, Naik attended his first USF football game at Raymond James Stadium. Bulls head coach Charlie Strong invited Naik to lead the team out of the tunnel and onto the field.
“I was overcome with emotion. It was truly an incredible experience that I will never forget,” said Naik, who is on the road to beating cancer and looking forward to his final chemotherapy treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in just a few weeks.
“No point in being negative. It doesn’t take you anywhere and I don’t have control over this. I can only control how I react to my diagnosis.”