Teenagers have a lot to worry about – there are the zits, the school work, the afterschool activities and the raging hormones. For Gulf News Reader Jayant Kandoi, these issues had to take a backseat, because at 15, he was diagnosed with cancer. “I had swelling on the right side of my neck; it was diagnosed as Hodgkin’s lymphoma stage 1.”
Source: Mayo Clinic
Kandoi, now 24 years old, admits this threw a spanner into his plans. “I wanted to be a pilot, an entrepreneur, now suddenly I was just thinking of cancer,” he says.
“When a doctor tells you you’ve got cancer, as a common man who doesn’t know what cancer is and how to survive it, it was difficult. Because I wanted to study, grow … for me, it was more like, something is stopping me from achieving what I want to do,” he adds.
As he got surgery to remove the lump and chemotherapy to eradicate any lingering cancer cells, Kandoi was focused – cancer could not be an excuse to do badly in exams. (He didn’t, scoring well above the class average.)
Six months on, the family – mum, dad and two siblings – thought the ordeal was over, Kandoi’s cancer was in remission. Normal life resumed – mostly. Every six months, he’d need to go get a screening done. In 2015, however, the screening delivered urgent news – the cancer had returned, this time to the opposite side of the neck. This time Kandoi would need to have 60 radiotherapies. “I still topped in class 12,” he tells Gulf News in a phone interview.
His cancer went into remission again, but like a viper that never dies, it struck again two years on, this time in his pancreas. “I was in Delhi University at the time, doing my bachelors, when I had terrible stomach aches. My father was insistent I come home for I was in so much pain,” he says.
The frustration he felt was incredible – “When you are in that stage you think, ‘Now what? Again and again the cancer keeps returning’. You want to study and get ahead but something is always stopping you,” he explains.
“At that point it was like, you are 19 and you have so many things left to do in life,” he says recalling his father’s words urging him to focus on himself so he could overcome this challenge. “This time, I didn’t have a surgery, because they said that the operation is dangerous, so we went for oral chemo, which helped me. Two months on, my cancer was in remission,” he says.
He had dropped out of college by this time but decided to do a long-distance course instead as he healed. This was also the time he started off his own non-governmental organisation, Star City Star Club. “This is my NGO, to help other patients. We started – me and five friends – today we have around 900 + volunteers. We help cancer patients with emotional and sometimes, financial support,” he says.
As Kandoi began to settle into his new normal, the cancer returned – first in the pancreas (in 2019) and then in his right axillary (in 2020).
He took oral chemotherapy again – but before he could go for a follow-up, COVID-19 came, wrapping swaths around its feverish hands, squeezing the country to a standstill. When the lockdown lifted and he finally did go, in November that year, he was once again greeted by an old enemy. This time the cancer was in his lower abdomen.
After his chemotherapy, his doctors suggested a bone marrow transplant, which was done in 2021. Today, says Kandoi, “I am cancer free.”
Getting used to routines
By the end of six bouts of cancer, Kandoi says, he had become accustomed to the arduous journey to recovery – there would be hair fall and pain and nausea and a stranger’s face staring back at you from your mirror sometimes – but those would all pass and he could get on with his day. “You know if you have fever, you find out it’s fever, you take paracetamol and then you are okay – that’s what it was like,” he says.
The now 24-year-old MBA student admits that his positivity was fostered by his parents and siblings. “My parents were my biggest support – they sacrificed a lot for me – but my dad always said one thing to me, ‘Never give up, we are with you’. After he said that to me the thought of giving up never came to me. They never made me feel like an invalid, that I was a ‘cancer’ patient. If they went for a community gathering and someone said, ‘Oh your child has cancer’, they would retort, ‘Yes, and? What’s the big deal?’ they would start talking about my achievements instead. So the person with the question would be gob smacked. They would also go from being negative to positive.
“They changed my mind-set – this is just a disease,” he adds. “My dad never stopped me from doing anything, he just asked: ‘How can I help?’”
During this journey, Kandoi learned about time management. “Planning and strategy comes in handy – if you want to do something, make your plan. When I had cancer when I was in 12th grade, I worked with a strategy: I have to go [for treatment for this much time], I will puke for this much time. I learned, I adapted to this disease. I never gave myself the chance to give up,” he explains.
“It is painful – but it’s not as terrible as people will lead you to believe,” says the author of three books – ’27 days’, the autobiography ‘Victorious’ and ‘365 quotes about my life’. “Stay strong.”
Kandoi’s advice to others
“Cancer is a very small word – keep yourself positive. Don’t let others let into your head, WhatsApp university is not helpful; they don’t know what cancer is but will throw their 2 cents at you anyway. They’ll tell you to go to self-proclaimed holy men and temples. Be scientific. Do what the doctor says – that’s what worked for me,” he says.
“Don’t spoil your today by thinking about death - everyone has to die; it can happen because of cancer, or because of an accident. But what we have to do is get the right treatment at the right time. We each have a story and we have to write it in a beautiful manner,” he adds.
Kandoi ends our interview on a positive note, saying: “I never thought God had written such a beautiful life for me. Because where I am today – helping people, motivating them – maybe if there was no cancer, I would not be able to do anything.”
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