Chaitanya Shah

2012 Scholarship Recipient

They were looking for a better life for their son when they moved to Canada—the land of ice hockey and subzero temperatures. They didn’t know the move would ultimately save his life and shape the path of his career. 

Although he was only eight, Chaitanya remembers clearly the night he and his parents, Biren and Sohal Shah, arrived in Canada. “It was 30 degrees Celsius in Mumbai when we left and -30 in Calgary when we landed.”   

Culture shock had nothing on the shock of that subzero weather. And yet, nothing would ever trump the shock of what was to come. 

At the end of his grade-eight basketball season Chaitanya was coughing a lot and thought he may have a cold. A chest scan revealed masses in his chest, which the doctor thought may be pneumonia. But when a team of doctors descended upon the Shahs to discuss the results of the scan, Chaitanya knew it was something serious. He remembers thinking, “Why do they need a whole team for this?” 

His instincts were right. It was stage 4 germ cell cancer, a highly aggressive cancer that demanded a lengthy and complex treatment protocol.

That night and the intense year that followed would determine the course of his life. Chaitanya is passionate about genetics and cancer and he is determined to be an oncologist one day. “I’m perfect for the position,” he jokes, “given my vast exposure to the profession.”

Even at 13, Chaitanya was thinking the way a doctor might. “There were multiple tumours all through my body,” he says. “There are many types of germ cell cancer but it was so advanced when we caught it that I had them all. I kept thinking ‘Did I miss something? Could I have caught this earlier?’”

As a biological sciences student at the University of Calgary, Chaitanya found an outlet for his passion and his inquisitive mind. With the help of a scholarship, made possible by you, Chaitanya graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences with honors in 2016.

His experience with cancer has taught him to take things in stride. “It’s given me a ferocious tenacity to go after what I want, but mostly it’s given me perspective. As stressful as it gets during exams, in the back of my mind, I go, ‘At least I don’t have cancer.’”

And the wry sense of humour? That’s quintessential Chaitanya—a quality that helped him during his cancer journey and that will one day serve him as an oncologist as he helps others facing cancer. Chaitanya started medical school in 2017 at the University of Calgary with plans to graduate in 2020.