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 advised me final fall. I requested him how a lot time he would wish to resolve 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 material bracelet: the kalava, a logo of safety in Hinduism. “I’m not a non secular particular person 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 little one, 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 attributable to a genetic mutation that dramatically raises the chance 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 may have allowed him to reside a lot, for much longer.”
Within the remaining months of Milan’s life, Gambhir confided to relations and shut pals that he felt as if his thoughts had “opened.” His scientific creativeness, already expansive, appeared to stretch even additional, with an invigorated sense of objective. In contrast to Milan, Gambhir carried no household historical past of most cancers, so he had no purpose to anticipate that the various productive years he had left in his profession could be minimize brief. “I believed we had had sufficient random bullets with our son,” he advised me. Nonetheless, he stated, it had been simpler to return to phrases together with his personal premature analysis than together with his little one’s. “When your son’s life is at stake, it’s much more than your individual life.”
Simply earlier than Thanksgiving final 12 months, 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 advised me by cellphone in December. “Simply should bear via it.” By January, it was apparent that his most cancers had metastasized.
Because the coronavirus pandemic seeded itself world wide, Gambhir entered his personal medical lockdown, sequestered at residence as he cycled over the next months via completely different chemo regimens, struggling poisonous reactions to virtually all of them. “With Sanjiv, the issue was that he knew an excessive amount of … However he nonetheless had hope,” Aruna advised 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 concept 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 large common clock.” That enormity, he added, labored towards him. “It’s irritating, as a result of from the pure scientific-discovery half, you want to to have the ability to … [go] again to that full film.”