Dr. V. Shanta – Guardian Angel of Cancer Care

The President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam presenting the Padma Bhushan Award 2006 to the Chairperson of the Cancer Institute, Chennai, Dr. (Ms.) V. Shanta, in New Delhi on March 20, 2006.

Our own life has to be our message – Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the greatest visionaries in the field of Indian cancer care, Dr. V. Shanta left an inspiring message of determination, compassion and vision when she passed away in the early hours of 19th January, 2021 at the age of 93.

The day before she passed away, she was busy with her duty until 8.30 pm at the Adayar Cancer Institute. She developed chest pain at around 9 pm and was taken to the hospital, where she breathed her last around 4.00 am.

Dr. Shanta was a rare humanitarian who showed us the power of simple living devoid of self-seeking grandiose. Dr. Shanta devoted her life towards making quality cancer care available for everyone.

Dr. Shanta joined the Adayar Cancer Institute when it was just a 12-bed thatched facility in 1952 and today, it is a 650-bed premier cancer hospital in South India. The Adayar Cancer Institute was also her home, where she lived in a small room within the premises to be available on call twenty four hours a day. Her last wishes were for her ashes to be scattered in the institute, as she didn’t want to leave the hospital.

Dr. V. Shanta was born on 11th March, 1927 at Mylapore in Chennai. Her family encouraged her in her ambition to become a doctor, especially her mother who herself wanted to be a nurse. Her illustrious family had two Nobel laureates; C V Raman, grand uncle and S Chandraskehar, uncle.

She completed her MBBS from Madras Medical College in 1949 and went on to do her MD in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. On meeting Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, who was trying to set up the cancer institute, she decided to take up the field of cancer treatment. This move upset her family members, as during that period cancer was considered incurable without any chance of survival.

Dr. Shantha along with Dr. Krishnamurthi, son of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy joined the institute as resident medical doctors. The institute began as a thatched structure but The Adayar Cancer Institute today is a world class hospital that provides cancer care treatment for people from all parts of the country. The Adayar Cancer Institute primarily focused on providing subsidised or free cancer care for the deprived sections of the society. Dr. Shanta relentlessly worked towards raising funds to make the treatment available for the deprived sections and has been successful in giving free or subsidised treatment for 60 percent of the patients.

In the increasing commercial and technology centered cancer treatment, Dr. Shanta believed in focusing on taking care of the patient, wherein the patient is the sole focus and needed to be treated like a family member. She believed that the oncologist’s role does not end when a patient enters palliative care treatment. Dr. Shanta fought tobacco giants and worked with the government to ensure that there were statutory warning messages on tobacco products and restricted the placement of tobacco related ads.

In her selfless work, she tried to raise awareness about cancer treatment across rural areas in Tamil Nadu. She opined that the mortality caused by cancer was primarily because of late diagnosis and was one of the first to start the oncology preventive programmes to create awareness about the life saving benefits of early detection. She wanted the dreaded perception about cancer to be changed into stories of survival and positivity. Several of her patients continued to work with her in spreading the message of life filled with hope after cancer, inspired by Dr. Shanta’s compassion and empathy.

Even at 93, she took up patient consultations and continued to oversee the administrative running of the institute. In fact, before she was admitted to the hospital, she was busy dictating a letter to her personal assistant seeking funds for the hospital. She has been conferred with the Magsaysay Award, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award given by the Government of India.

Dr. Shanta has left us with the divine message of compassionate selflessness and determination through her rich, inspiring life.

A big salute to the angel guardian who is irreplaceable.

Photo Credit : Wikipedia

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