Within the final months of his life, Gambhir acknowledged that his personal luck had run out. “I inform my spouse, ‘If I simply had extra time, I do know I may remedy this,’” he instructed me final fall. I requested him how a lot time he would wish to unravel his personal most cancers case. His reply, fittingly, was “a long time.”
This was not the primary time for Gambhir that the hole between his futuristic imaginative and prescient and the current got here with tragic private penalties. When he and I met in November, he wore a skinny, pink, braided fabric bracelet: the kalava, a logo of safety in Hinduism. “I’m not a spiritual individual in any respect,” he stated, gazing down at his wrist. “It’s a connection to my son.” In 2015, Sam and Aruna Gambhir misplaced their solely youngster, 16-year-old Milan, to an aggressive and extremely deadly mind tumor referred to as glioblastoma multiforme, one of many many cancers that Gambhir had been learning on the time in his lab.
Because the Gambhir household realized afterward, Milan’s most cancers was doubtless tied to Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a uncommon, inherited situation brought on by a genetic mutation that dramatically raises the danger of many varieties of most cancers. The mutation was handed down from Aruna, who has twice battled breast most cancers on account of the DNA defect. “If [Milan] had been born 100 years from now,” Gambhir stated in a 2018 speak, “the instruments of precision well being might have allowed him to stay a lot, for much longer.”
Within the remaining months of Milan’s life, Gambhir confided to members of the family and shut mates that he felt as if his thoughts had “opened.” His scientific creativeness, already expansive, appeared to stretch even additional, with an invigorated sense of goal. Not like Milan, Gambhir carried no household historical past of most cancers, so he had no cause to count on that the numerous productive years he had left in his profession could be reduce quick. “I believed we had had sufficient random bullets with our son,” he instructed me. Nonetheless, he stated, it had been simpler to return to phrases together with his personal premature analysis than together with his youngster’s. “When your son’s life is at stake, it’s much more than your individual life.”
Simply earlier than Thanksgiving final yr, Gambhir realized that the most cancers that had been confined to his bone marrow had unfold. He was in extreme ache. “I’m again to sq. one,” he instructed me by cellphone in December. “Simply must bear via it.” By January, it was apparent that his most cancers had metastasized.
Because the coronavirus pandemic seeded itself all over the world, Gambhir entered his personal medical lockdown, sequestered at dwelling as he cycled over the next months via totally different chemo regimens, struggling poisonous reactions to nearly all of them. “With Sanjiv, the issue was that he knew an excessive amount of … However he nonetheless had hope,” Aruna instructed me in August. “He was combating till the very finish.”
Early in our conversations, Gambhir admitted that dwelling within the current second—that earnest cultural cliché—was “a overseas idea” to him. Later in our talks, I discussed that the thought of time, in all of its dimensions, appeared to course via his work. He agreed. “The half that people can’t comprehend—and I personally have a troublesome time comprehending it—is time. We’re a tiny speck on this huge common clock.” That enormity, he added, labored towards him. “It’s irritating, as a result of from the pure scientific-discovery half, you desire to to have the ability to … [go] again to that full film.”