The medical community in Chennai came together on January 19 to pay its last tributes to the city’s best-known oncologist Dr. V Shanta of the Adyar Cancer Institute.
The doctor was admitted to Apollo Hospitals on January 18 night after she complained of discomfort. She passed away at 3.55 am on January 19 after attempts to remove a block from a blood vessel failed. She was 93.
Dr. C S Mani, a fellow oncologist, called Shanta a “visionary” who devised “many protocols in cancer treatment much ahead of the West”. He said he had graduated under Shanta at the institute, where she worked along with Dr. Krishnamurthy. “My gratitude for her work and my grief cannot be translated into words,” Dr. Mani said when contacted.
Shanta’s work was “pathbreaking” and she was “50 years ahead of the West”, he said. Dr. Mani is part of the Chennai-based Cancer Research and Relief Trust, an alumni group of the Cancer Institute. He also practices at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai.
A doyen among doctors, Dr. Shanta has been honoured with the Magsaysay award and Padma Vibhushan. She has been widely praised for making cancer care accessible to everyone irrespective of their capacity to pay.
Dr. E Vidhubala told Moneycontrol that Shanta was a “very dedicated doctor” who advocated the early detection and prevention of cancer. “Her mind was always with the common people. She wanted to make cancer treatment affordable to everyone. In spite of the honours and awards that came her way, Dr. Shanta was a simple person, who was down to earth,” Vidhubala said.
Vidhubala is involved with cancer care for communities and is based in Tirunelveli in south Tamil Nadu. “Unlike many other doctors, Dr. Shanta promoted medical ethos. Wherever you find doctors who have passed out from the institute, they are always practitioners of high ethical standards,” said Vidhubala, who was earlier associated with the Cancer Institute.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and former Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss took to Twitter to express their condolences.
Shanta, who was the chairwoman of the Adyar Cancer Institute, is renowned for developing the ACI from a small, 12-bedded hospital into a massive institution of considerable repute. She has been working at the Institute for the last 65 years.
Dr. V Shanta’s contribution to cancer treatment in India has no parallel
Family of scientists
Born on March 11, 1927, Dr. Shanta belonged to a family of scientists. She studied at National Girls High School (Lady Sivaswami Ayyar Girls Higher Secondary School). She took her MBBS from Madras Medical College in 1949, DGO in 1952, and MD (Obstetrics and Gynecology) in 1995.
She joined the institute, founded by Muthulakshmi Reddy, one of India’s first women graduates in medicine. At the Institute, she took up the cause of cancer awareness and devoted herself to its care and treatment.
After attending the funeral, Dr. Ramanan, an oncologist at a top private hospital in Chennai, said, “Madam used to always say that even though we are often bearers of bad news, we must ensure that the patient leaves the chamber with the feeling of mental solace. Take important decisions for your patients as you would take for your dear ones.”
Dr. Shanta was associated with the Adyar Cancer Institute from 1955 and was its director between 1980 and 1997. After the first three years as an honorary staff, the Institute paid her Rs 200 per month and residence in a room within the campus, where she has lived since April 13, 1955.
Dr. Senthil Kumar, who did his surgical oncological training at the Institute from 2009 to 2012, said that the Institute was famous for its ethos. “Even if you had little or no money, you would still get the best of cancer care. There would be no discrimination. That really taught me that if you have the heart to help, you can,” Dr. Senthil told me.
Dr. Senthil practices at the Savitha Medical College on the outskirts of the city and was earlier an assistant professor at the Institute from 2012-2014. “The Institute was a pioneering place for cancer treatment and was home to many firsts in India. For example, the first pediatric oncology department was set up at ACI,” he said.
Dr. Shanta was a member of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission for Health. She has also served on the World Health Organisation’s advisory committee on health. She was critical of the metaphorical usage of the name of the disease to describe an uncontrollable situation. After the onslaught of the pandemic, she kept the hospital working and was active until earlier this week. Thousands of patients of the Institute will be sorry to see her go.