How does one describe someone who has had such a great influence on you and whose loss makes you feel so bereft that you feel completely rudderless?
We woke up this morning to the numbing news of the passing of Dr V Shanta, Chairperson of the Adayar Cancer Institute in Chennai, a Magsaysay Award winner and decorated by richly deserved National Awards the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan as well as Padma Vibhushan.
This loss is irreparable to all of us who have been involved in cancer care; blessed by just having lived during Dr Shanta's lifetime and learned so much from her. Dr Shanta wore her achievements of 65 years in oncology lightly; the humility and the compassion in her eyes shone bright lighting up our lives.
Dr Shanta devoted her life to cancer treatment and that was how she made time for her patients and not just in her consultation rooms. She recognised the power of the patient leaders, advocates, and volunteers and made it a point to be present at every patient support group meeting I have organised in Chennai.
To have someone of Dr Shanta’s stature in their midst never intimated the patients. They loved her and it was there for all to see how that love was reciprocated. She was accessible to all. She met the patients with much energy and positive vibes; her seemingly diminutive persona was enough to inspire and encourage them to face their cancer with grit and fortitude.
These are patients on lifelong treatment for rare blood cancer and having someone like Dr Shanta come spend a day with them gave them the kind of encouragement and motivation that made all the difference to how they faced up to their condition.
I haven’t stopped receiving their heartbroken messages all day.
For me personally, Dr Shanta has been a role model like no other. Every interaction was a lesson in humility and kindness. We once shared the stage (itself an immense honour) as speakers at an event and I saw the notes she had made for her speech. They were written on the plain reversed side of used notepaper and meticulously stapled together. She caught my glance, smiled and said, "Why waste good paper allava ma?"
Thank you Dr Shanta for all you have taught us. Rest in eternal peace. We will carry on your work.
Viji Venkatesh is the Region Head, (India & South Asia), The Max Foundation.