Dr. Chirag Jani, recognized as one of the top young oncologists in the country, is medical director of hematology/oncology at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Center and is chairman of the center’s Department of Medicine and its Cancer Committee and Tumor Board. (Special photo)
ALBANY — Dr. Chirag Jani remembers the moment with a bright smile.
“A patient came in here after being told she had a small cancer, and her blood pressure shot up to 170 over 110,” Jani, medical director of hematology/oncology at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Center, said. “It took four people to hold her up, she was so distraught. Her daughter came to me, frightened, and I told her, ‘When your mother walks out of here, she’s going to be smiling. Given the diagnosis she’s gotten, it’s going to turn out to be a blessing.’
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“The daughter, of course, was puzzled. She wanted to know what I was talking about. I told her and her mother, ‘It’s simple. Your testing led to early detection. Now there’s more than a 95 percent chance that you’ll be cured with no chemotherapy. If you hadn’t gotten checked, if you’d waited for a year or two, you wouldn’t have gotten that prognosis. This is a blessing.”
Jani pauses to offer his thousand-watt smile.
“She walked out of here happy,” he said.
Such is the life of the men and women who’ve placed themselves on the front lines of the battle against cancer. Theirs are days filled with triumph and tragedy.
“Seeing people suffer with cancer and through chemotherapy can be emotionally draining,” Jani said. “But when we get them over their speed bump and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that makes it all worth it.”
Jani has certainly seen his share of both since coming to the Phoebe Cancer Center from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 2003. He completed his medical studies “at a young age” in India before coming to New York to study internal medicine. He completed geriatrics studies at the University of South Florida and hematology/oncology at UMass. He was only 29 when he completed the studies.
Recognized now as one of the country’s top oncology specialists, Jani is chairman of the Phoebe Cancer Center’s Department of Medicine, its Cancer Committee and its Tumor Board.
“My training allows me to see patients through the entire spectrum of their illness, from diagnosis to treatment,” he said. “Having trained through the entire spectrum, I believe, gives me an edge over those with very limited training. I’m able to treat my patients more intensively, to adjust with them when their needs change.”
Jani said current statistics indicate that of 100 new cases, as many as 60 percent are localized early. Of those, 70 percent are curable. Of the other 30 percent, he says, half have the potential to be cured through long-term treatment. Still, the oncologist says, there is always hope, no matter the diagnosis.
“I believe there is never a situation where there is no hope,” he said. “Even if someone gets three separate opinions of ‘incurable,’ we can give that person as good a quality of life as possible in whatever amount of time he has. No matter what stage the cancer may be in, no situation is ever hopeless.”
Jani bases his optimism on the rapid advancements being made in the battle against cancer. He says improved medications, research and clinical trials that help researchers understand more about the illness are some of the reasons for increased hope across the spectrum.
And the renowned oncologist acknowledges that there is also room for good old-fashioned miracles.
“I had a patient who was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer,” Jani said. “I told him honestly that of 100 patients with his cancer, there was an 80 to 90 percent chance that he would not live longer than six months to a year. This guy’s four years out today, and he’s still doing well.
“That confirms to me that the physicality of the human experience is only a small piece of the puzzle. There are things that medical science cannot prove or disprove, but there is no doubt spirituality that inspires a positive outlook is important in cancer treatment.”
Jani acknowledges that, given his reputation, he could “potentially practice medicine anywhere I choose.” He said there are reasons he chooses to do so in Albany.
“First of all, I want to stay away from the snow, so it’s going to be somewhere south of Virginia,” he laughs. “But, most important, people like (Phoebe CEO) Joel (Wernick), (former Cancer Center Director) Dr. (Phillip) Roberts and (Medical Director of Oncology Services) Dr. (Robert) Krywicki care about their patients. The Phoebe Cancer Center is a patient-centered facility. That’s always going to be most important to me.”