At 23, Jayant Kandoi weighs no more than 36 kgs, but when he speaks, you can hear the determination of a heavyweight fighter. His opponent is a formidable one, over whom he has prevailed time and again – Jayant is a six-time cancer survivor.
“I’ve spent a good portion of my childhood surviving cancer. I counted 1,237 days that I have spent in hospitals over the last nine years, which translates to nearly 4 years in hospitals,” Jayant tells The Better India.
Even though he asserts that he has never let it get to him, going through so many surgeries has done immense damage to his body, which has undergone innumerable tests and medication, but his spirit remains undeterred.
He says, “It all started in 2013 when I was in Class 10. I found a small lump on the right side of my neck and it turned out to be cancerous. It was also the first time I heard of Hodgkin Lymphoma. While there was no pain, the lump started growing and it became more noticeable.” That was also the first time that Jayant saw the insides of an operating theatre.
“None of this scared me and a lot of that has to do with the kind of environment that was present at home,” he says. With a million questions about the surgery and post-surgery recovery, Jayant was admitted to Bhagwan Mahavir Cancer hospital in Jaipur for surgery and treatment thereafter. “It was here that I went through chemotherapy for the first time. I had to undergo six cycles of chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free on 12 January 2014. The date seems etched in memory,” he says.
He returned to Ajmer and sat for his Class 10 board examination and went on to top the class as well. “I have always been a rank holder in my academic journey,” he says with pride. Even though Jayant was cancer-free in 2014, there were days when he would feel exhausted and could not attend school. “All through Class 5 to 9, I held a record for never missing even a single day of school, and then suddenly, because of my health, I was forced to stay home for such long periods,” he says.
When Jayant was in Class 11 he found yet another lump — this time on the left side of his neck.
On 14 February 2015, he was back to being admitted at Bhagwan Mahavir Cancer hospital and treated for cancer. Jayant didn’t let his health hamper his academic goals and having cleared the Delhi University examination, Jayant started his BCom course as well. “Unfortunately, in early 2017, cancer struck again and this time it was on my pancreas. I would often experience excruciating stomach pain and this was during the time I was in my final year. Since I was staying alone in Delhi my father urged me to come back and get treated immediately,” he says.
Since Jayant was unable to manage by himself he returned to Ajmer in 2017 and could not complete his graduation. “I do feel bad about that but I just couldn’t bear the pain. It was the breaking point for me,” he says. This time around the doctors told him that a nine-inch incision would have to be made through the stomach to get to the tumour. “That was the first time I ever saw my father worried. The tumour was only 1 cm in size but the fact that a portion of my stomach might have to be removed was not something he was fine with,” says Jayant.
With oral chemotherapy, Jayant was able to manage this tumour and for almost two years after the diagnosis, he was fine. Not one to give up on his academics, Jayant enrolled under the distance education scheme and completed his graduation. Jayant’s father, Ashok Kandoi (57) says, “Sending him away to study and complete his graduation was not something I wanted to risk. His life was far more important to us than him getting any degree. For nine years I have been fighting God to let me keep my only real wealth (my children), and I will do that till my last breath.”
In 2019, Jayant was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer yet again in the same place it had occurred in 2017.
This was his fourth cancer diagnosis and even though his physical body was battered, Jayant’s hopes never dipped. “I was at the doctor’s once again getting oral chemotherapy done. Thankfully, since then, pancreatic cancer has not returned,” he says with relief in his voice.
None of this has been easy on Jayant’s family either. While Jayant was the one going through the pain physically, his sister, Harshita Garg (26), who is three years older than Jayant, shares, “There was always fear but I also had full faith in my brother. The way he has lived his life, I doubt even a king, with everything at his disposal, would have been this happy.”
Last year, there was another tumour detected in his right axillary, and this time, Jayant and his father went to the Gujarat Cancer Hospital, Ahmedabad, for treatment. “I completed my treatment on 20 March 2020 and left for Ajmer, and on 21 March 2020, the lockdown was imposed. I was to get back to Ahmedabad for some post-surgery treatment, but was advised against it,” he says.
Just as he was recovering for the fifth time, in November 2020, it struck again.
This time, as cancer of the lower abdomen. Jayant has also undergone a bone marrow transplant and says that even though he is not one to be afraid of needles, the marrow extraction from his lower back was “painful beyond words”.
“I have had to deal with cancer six times and each time a new body part was impacted. Every time I fell sick, there were a few relatives who advised my parents to leave me in some institute. They thought that I would not survive so the best would be to keep me away. Today, when I am interviewed and I give motivational talks, those same relatives watch with their mouths wide open. Now they want to maintain their connection and call me their nephew,” says Jayant.
Amidst all this, Jayant established an organisation along with a few friends called City Star Club.
“This organisation was born out of my turmoil. I was in a bad space and wanted to do something to keep myself occupied and help others going through cancer. This became a space in which I counsel people dealing with cancer, try to arrange for funds and medicines as required and create as much awareness as possible about the disease,” he says. To date, the organisation has 350 registered volunteers as well.
After 17 chemotherapy sessions, over 60 plus radiotherapy sessions and one bone marrow transplant later, Jayant continues to stand tall. “The entire process of treatment is very demanding and the only thing that kept me going was my desire to live.” His father’s words often resonate with him and he shares, “Since the first time I got cancer, papa has always said he will, if the need arises, even snatch me from God himself. It is because of him that I will never give up,” he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)