” TRIBUTES have been paid to a “brave and inspiring” cancer sufferer who died last week after spending her last days campaigning for stem cell donors. Ulrika Dandekar, also known as Riya, died aged 21. Her mother Dr Ursula Bahalkar described her as a “beautiful butterfly”.
She said: “Her legacy, we hope, will have been to raise awareness of how simple, quick and painless it is to register online and potentially save a life. “I want everyone out there to register in her memory – it is a New Year resolution that everyone can keep.” Riya passed away at Marie Curie Hospice in Solihul surrounded by her family, including dad Dr Uday Dandekar and stepfather Dr Pradeep Bahalkar. “Her older brother Utkarsh and I were by her side through the evening,” Ursula said.
“She was very weak but was able to ask for her dad and step-dad. Within minutes of them arriving she took her last breath. It was as though she waited to say goodbye to them.” Riya’s life was changed forever in March last year when she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer just days before her 21st birthday. She was told that her best chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant – but first she needed to find a matching donor though the charity Anthony Nolan, which runs the UK’s bone marrow register. Her ‘Save Riya Now’ appeal inspired a huge increase, 960 per cent, in the number of Asian people joining the charity’s bone marrow register. Riya, who spoke to EE in July, said she was a “very active” person before her diagnosis – taking part in ballet, martial arts and in the army cadets.
She spoke about her future and her ambitions in being a doctor, if she became better. “I haven’t lost hope just yet,” she previously said. “When I get better I still want to get into medical school and become a lifesaver.” Hundreds of messages have flooded in on social media, praising a “remarkable young woman”. On Facebook Wendy Butler said: “Only met her briefly but oh boy do I remember her zest for life – very infectious – an inspirational lady.” Sarah Shipley said: “The world was a brighter place with Riya in it, and she touched so many people lives, be proud of that. She won’t be forgotten.”
Jasjit Singh said: “I like to think she won the battle with cancer. We can’t possibly shake free of this cruel world without breaking through the barrier Riya has gone through. She won because she has peace. Cancer didn’t stand a chance.” Ursula added: “People are saying how sorry they are. But we are saying don’t be sorry, she’s not in pain anymore, she is at peace. The main thing is we were able to say our goodbyes to her. She was only 21 but was an extraordinary young woman.”
She said her daughter spent her final months in hospital caring for fellow patients. “I would visit her and find her not in her bed, instead on other wards, reading someone a newspaper, playing cards or talking to them, holding their hands.” An Anthony Nolan spokesperson said: “We’re so sad to hear of the death of Riya Dandekar – such a brave, bright and beautiful young woman. “We can’t emphasise enough how easy it is to join the register and, if you’re one of the privileged people to come up as a match, to donate your stem cells. For the donor, it is a simple act – but for Riya, it means absolutely everything.”
Riya’s funeral was due to take place on Friday (9) in Solihull.
Anyone aged 16 to 30 can join the Anthony Nolan. Register at www.anthonynolan.org