Doctor Ashok Raj fights cancer with humor

Finding laughter even during very serious times

If you were to meet Ashok Raj, M.D., on the street, you would likely see a quiet and soft-spoken guy. But when you get him around his patients, it’s a very different story.

“Dr. Raj is awesome,” said Matthew Walker, 14, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 12 and received treatment at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute. “He looks so serious, but he’s really, really funny. He always is cracking jokes.”

Dr. Raj is the interim director of hematology/oncology/stem cell transplant at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute and University of Louisville. He cares for kids with many types of cancers and blood disorders.

“Treatments have come so far since I started working in this field more than 20 years ago,” Dr. Raj said. “We’re saving more lives than ever before.”

But even with the advancements in medicine, cancer’s physical and emotional effects can be devastating. That’s why Dr. Raj is always equipped with his years of expertise — and his humor.

Norton Children’s Cancer Institute
  • Treatment and support services that are mindful of potential side effects, such as learning disabilities, as childhood cancer survivors grow and age.
  • Survivorship programs that help children and families as they experience new life stages together.
  • Kentucky’s only Adolescent and Young Adult Program and Transition Clinic so that children can receive care suited for their age.

“No family wants to be in this situation, so in addition to providing treatment, I want to bring smiles to patient’s faces whenever I can,” he said. “There’s the old adage that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ which has some truth to it.”

‘Every step of the way’

Matthew and his family recently reunited with Dr. Raj and hundreds of other families, doctors and nurses at a Norton Children’s Cancer Institute event at the Louisville Zoo to celebrate survivors and advancements in care. While there was lots of laughter, Dr. Raj delivered a very serious message.

“We want to see more happy stories, but we still have much more work to do,” he said. “The fact is dozens of kids are diagnosed with cancer and blood disorders every day and we need to continue to fight and bring awareness.”

Matthew is now in remission. He and his parents are very complimentary of the care they’ve received at Norton Children’s.

“Thumbs-up incredible,” said Dion Walker, Matthew’s dad. “Dr. Raj and the entire staff have become like family. They’ve been with us every step of the way.”

And that certainly gives Dr. Raj something to smile about.

Pictured above: Ashok Raj, M.D., and the Walker family at the “Go Gold With Us” event at the Louisville Zoo.