Manraj Sidhu

Manraj Sidhu

Overcoming cancer with courage and determination

Manraj attended McNair Secondary School in Richmond. He was a top-flight student, achieving a GPA of 95% and the top overall academic results for grade 10. Then, at the start of grade 11, he was diagnosed with cancer and had to spend close to a year at BC Children’s Hospital.
Teachers at McNair describe Manraj as "an amazing young man... he is the epitome of strength, unselfishness, and courage. His positive attitude in life in general never ceases to amaze." Manraj was recognized by his school for his courage, determination and desire to help others through a Rick Hansen Difference Maker Award, and was selected to be a medal bearer during the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay. He was also chosen to represent British Columbia as a difference maker at the 2011 Calgary Stampede marshalled by Rick.

We asked this inspirational young man to tell us about his experiences and how he overcame the difficulties that he faced.


Who really helped, motivated and inspired you when things were tough?

I would say one of the most inspiring and good-willed motivators I had was Lorne Bodin, the vice-principal at my high school.  When I was undergoing treatment, he would make the effort to visit weekly to keep me updated on everything that was happening in the real world and just help by bringing a little more joy into my situation.

My treatment had eliminated my immune system so my friends were not permitted to visit me. Mr. Bodin would collect cards with messages from my friends and deliver them to me. One day he even gathered my friends in front of my school and sent pictures of all of them posing with a get well sign.

Mr. Bodin was diagnosed with stomach cancer the following year and passed away. I gave a eulogy at his celebration of life, where I met Rick Hansen for the first time.

What do you think of Rick and his story?

By high school I don't think there was a single student who did not know of Rick. Growing up people like Rick were legend; his cause and accomplishments were so grand and heroic. He and his story are purely an inspiration. They were before I met him and are to me today. It's something I hope to follow suit with.

Rick is still very relevant to young people today. People nowadays are probably more aware of issues related to disabilities than ever before, thanks to people like Rick. Due to greater awareness and accessibility he may be more relevant today than he ever was.

What has been the biggest lesson you have learned from your experiences?

This is hard to say. I don't think there is one thing you "learn" from an experience like this that changes your perception of the world. Quite frankly, I felt rather unchanged and was glad to be that way. In the aftermath of my treatment I returned to my normal life, and though I can say no one is ever really the same afterwards, I suppose I realized just how enjoyable it is to be "normal" again.

What obstacles did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

Beyond the knowledge of death being a possibility and the physical strains I had to endure, I was rather taken aback by my lack of participation in social activities. I was confined to a room for eight months and saw Facebook photos and updates of my friends doing all these great things. It really made me think about my situation and how I was unable to do any of these things any more. Even though the hospital provided activities and adventures for teens, I stubbornly refused them.

After treatment I was invited on a cancer survivors trip to Texas. I enjoyed it so much that I became the spokesperson for the organization and now actively participate and volunteer in programs that help children with cancer. I now encourage kids in treatment to participate early. Learn from my mistake if you will.

What advice would you give to other young people in your position?

Above all, I took my diagnosis as a mental battle rather than a physical one. I always thought in the long term, i.e. what were my plans for after treatment was over. This helped mediate the short term pains, joys and disappointments.

Regardless of the outcome, if your mental state is a healthy one - you will leave in one piece.

What are you doing now, and what do you want to do in the future? Have your experiences influenced those choices?

My experiences have influenced to a large degree what I am doing now, although I originally intended them not to.

I am studying sciences at UBC and am considering a potential career in cancer treatment or medical research. I am pairing up with my oncologist from the hospital to begin some research relating to cancer treatments and chemotherapy.

The few extra hours I find once in a while I usually volunteer with children undergoing treatment at BC Children's Hospital.
We congratulate Manraj on his positive attitude and determination, and hope that his story inspires others to overcome the obstacles that they face and use their experiences to make positive change in the world.

The Rick Hansen Difference Maker Program empowers young people to make positive change in their communities. Click here to find out more.

Read more stories of inspirational young Difference Makers here.