In Dr V Shanta’s death, the nation has lost one of its greatest icons. Her towering and compassionate presence at the Adyar Cancer Research Centre in Chennai healed people’s hearts for decades. That mattered more than them battling the dreaded disease called cancer, for which they came to her hoping for a miracle cure.
Dr Shanta was an institution by herself, having dedicated her life to the research of cancer and rehabilitation of patients. Many of her patients have stories to share of the trials and tribulations they overcame only because they were under the wing of Dr Shanta and her team of doctors. Hers was a life of a constant search for cure and finding ways to alleviate pain.
As a 28-year-old doctor who joined a 12-bed “cottage hospital”, she metamorphosed it into an institution, a global one at that, hosting patients suffering from pain in her 400-bed cancer care institute, quietly managing the monetary side of treatment. For Dr Shanta, it was her mission to heal her patients. And she never stopped at that. She believed in their rehabilitation as well, because patients do go through emotional turmoil and may become psychological wrecks.
Her stature is incomparable, her compassion and simplicity having touched so many people since 1955 after she chose cancer research over the position of a surgeon at a hospital where she had been selected through the Madras Public Service Commission. Soon multiple awards followed her in this journey, but never once did they make her complacent.
The legend is no longer with us. But her legacy will remain an inspiration in the fight against cancer. Her name has become synonymous with ethics and selflessness of service and her life will always remain an example for doctors. A befitting tribute to her was a poor man who had plucked a few flowers on his way to the crematorium to pay his respects to her.
He had said, “I couldn’t afford my daughter’s treatment anywhere else. I came here because I heard the person who gave us care and life without charging for it is no more.” That is Dr Shanta for us.