Ashok Kashyap

Friends of Max’s Patient Advocate of the Month is Ashok Kashyap, our City Chapter Leader from Bengaluru.

Ashok was born and raised in Bengaluru and says he had a very lively childhood up to the seventh grade. But being the son of a government doctor came with its fair share of challenges. When Ashok’s father was transferred to Mysore, the thirteen-year-old had to move to a hostel in the city. Here he discovered the magic of cinema. “I used to go to the movies regularly. That gave me the drive to pursue a career in film making”.

After finishing his schooling, Ashok learnt cinematography from reputed institutes like Government Film and Television Institute, Bangalore and The Film and Television Institute, Pune. He also did a course in journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. He started his career with Doordarshan but soon quit to follow his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Ashok got his first break with the movie “Upendra” in which he worked as a cinematographer. This movie launched his career into the Kannada film industry in 1999 and he soon reached the level of fame and success that he had always hoped for.

During one of his busy shooting schedules, Ashok realized that he had lost his appetite and his skin complexion had grown darker. On the recommendation of a friend, he went in for a medical check-up which revealed his diagnosis with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML). “At the time I was not even aware of what Leukaemia was. When I told my wife though, she was really shocked. Later, through my family, I learnt that I had cancer.”

Ashok consulted Dr Govind Babu at the Kidwai Memorial Institute. “He told me not to worry and that I only had to take one Glivec tablet every day. I did not realize how expensive an affair this was going to be!” Within one year, Ashok and his wife had exhausted almost all their savings. Due to his celebrity status and the stigma of cancer, once word got out about Ashok’s disease, his workers left him. He lost several major projects as well as a lot of his film industry contacts, forcing him into a financial struggle.

Then he met Rajendra, a fellow CML patient at the Kidwai hospital. “He saw how distraught my wife and I were and told us about The Max Foundation and their work with CML patients in India.” Ashok reached out to Max’s Beena Narayanan and later spoke to Viji Venkatesh. Recalling his first interaction with them, he says, “They guided me through the process of inclusion in Max’s Glivec Access Programme. They both gave me a lot of positive advice and helped me get my life back on track.”

Ashok attended his first support group meeting in Bengaluru in 2006. Inspired by the FOM patient leaders and eager to know more about them and learn from their experiences, he attended the FOM All-India Meeting in Kolkata the next year. He soon became a regular at the regional meetings in Bengaluru and Mangalore where he also used his communication skills to share his own experiences with other patients. He also became a regular at the Chai for Cancer Addas at Cubbon Park. He is also very approachable and provides moral and emotional support to any patient who reaches out to him.

Today, Ashok is a successful filmmaker and a household name amongst the Kannada movie audience. He has won several accolades throughout his career. Crediting Friends of Max, he says, “They gave me a second chance at life. Today I have been on medication for 16 years. It would not have been possible without them”.

Ashok’s next big dream is to produce and direct a movie centred around the subject of cancer and contribute the entire profits to Friends of Max for the betterment of his fellow patients. “As a filmmaker, I feel this is the best way I can show my gratitude”, he says.

When asked if he has a message for his fellow patients, Ashok responds in a truly filmy style – “When you stare into the eyes of a wild animal, it steps back. Cancer is the same.” He adds, “Many people are scared when they are newly diagnosed. In their state of fear, they take drastic decisions. Treat this disease like a normal cough or cold. Willpower is the key to a happier tomorrow. If you tell your body that you are doing fine, that you can perform well, nothing can stop you.”