Dr V Shanta, the doyen of cancer care in India who made cancer treatment accessible to all, died early this morning (19 December).
The senior oncologist and chairperson of Adyar Cancer Institute was 93.
President Ram Nath Kovind, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led the nation's tribute to the tireless worker that Dr Shanta was in ensuring world-class facilities and quality care for her patients.
Various other leaders, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, paid glowing tributes to the oncologist, whose unfaltering service and determination to sustain, made her a role model for those in medical services.
Dr Shanta, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2016, was one whose motto was “to give and not take”.
“Everything for every patient; we do not want to deprive anyone of treatment for lack of financial resources, and there is a distinct sense of satisfaction in working for others,” she said once in an interview with The Hindu.
“When the sick approach the gates of the institute, weak in body and spirit, and full of fear, there is only one response, you have to become part of them,” said the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner elsewhere.
The Magsaysay Award citation read: “In an era when specialised medical care in India has become highly commercialised, Dr Shanta strives to ensure that the Institute remains true to its ethos, 'Service to all’. Its services are free or subsidised for some 60 percent of its 100,000 annual patients [...] 87-year-old Shanta still sees patients, still performs surgery and is still on call twenty-four hours a day."
Born on 11 March 1927 into a distinguished family that included Nobel laureates Dr C V Raman and Dr S Chandrasekar, Shanta always wanted to become a doctor.
She completed her medical graduation — MBBS — in 1949 at the Madras Medical College and then did her MD in obstetrics and gynaecology in 1955. Then, medical education was free for girls.
Shanta joined the Cancer Institute that was set up in 1954 as a 12-bed cottage hospital by another path-breaking woman, the late Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, India’s first woman medical graduate and house surgeon.
She joined the institute in 1955 since she wanted to be different, upsetting her family, but the Cancer Institute remained her home for over 65 years since then till she breathed her last this morning.
A strong advocate of early detection of cancer, Dr Shanta was passionate about her work and was totally dedicated to it. She led by example developing a programme for early detection of cancer.
She also trained hundreds of village nurses to screen rural women for cervical cancer.
Her over 65 years at the institute have been eventful with the institution facing financial crunch and difficulties in getting donations.
Those untiring efforts have borne fruit now as the Cancer Institute today has 423 beds with nearly 300 of them being free.
Not just this, her efforts to champion the cause of cancer patients have resulted in duty exemption for cancer drugs, free travel for them in trains and buses, making cancer a noticeable disease in Tamil Nadu, and getting first cobalt machine in India.
She was also instrumental in instituting the first super-speciality course in oncology in India, first cancer registry, first paediatric oncology unit and many more.
Dr Shanta had once confessed that she was not very sociable and her interests in sports were minimal, leaving her without any hobby.
She, however, was an avid reader of English literature, particularly William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens and Bernard Shaw.
One of his professors once saw her reading Shaw and remarked: “Knowledge comes, wisdom lingers”. It was something she did not understand then but later in life, she said she did.
A gritty lady, Dr Shanta once said she did not have close friends and hardly kept in touch with the few she had.
But that did not keep her away from her admirers' hearts, particularly the thousands who she and her institute took care of during the critical phase of their lives.
Today, she has taken another step forward to the other world as an angel who was friendly and saviour of many a cancer patient.
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