Adyar Cancer Institute celebrates diamond jubilee

When institutions thrive, it can be thanks to governments; it can also be in spite of governments. In its 60 years of existence, the Adyar Cancer Institute has seen both kinds of government, and it has grown both because of and despite them. Of course, it also grows because of its inner strength, the people that drive it from within.

With Chief Minister Jayalalithaa presiding over the diamond jubilee year celebrations of the famed institution that provides state-of-the-art oncological care to people from all segments of society, the story of the State’s involvement with a care centre dedicated entirely towards beating cancer unravelled slowly. On one side, the Chief Minister spoke of her respect for the commitment and dedication of V.Shanta, chairperson of the Adyar Cancer Institute, and saluted the staff of the Cancer Institute for their services.

She also announced a grant of Rs. five crore towards the fund for the diamond jubilee building at the Institute. This after Sarojini Varadappan, the only surviving senior member of the Women’s India Association (the first ever financier for the Cancer Institute), dropped a hint that donation drives were on to gather funds to complete the project that would help accommodate more persons with cancer. Since 1992, Ms. Jayalalithaa said, an annual grant was being sanctioned for the Cancer Institute with a 10 per cent appreciation every year. For the year 2012-2013, the grant was raised to Rs. 1.75 crore, and will be increased subsequently to Rs. 2.5 crore with an annual increase of 15 per cent (from 10 per cent). She had also written to the Prime Minister to recognise the Institute as a Centre of Excellence.

And then, there was another government. Dr. Shanta recalled how 60 years ago, between 1949 and 1952, the founder of the Cancer Institute went knocking on every government door for support to start such a centre to take care of poor people with cancer at a time when such diagnosis was verily the death knell. “Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy struggled to get a five-acre piece of land for the institute,” she said.

An application for the land next to the YMCA on Mount Road was rejected on the grounds that it had been reserved for the rolling greens of the Cosmopolitan Club’s golf links. Land at T.Nagar was petitioned for, but did not come through. “All we got was a strip of land in Gandhi Nagar abutting the Buckingham Canal. Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy pleaded for better land, but we were told, ‘take it or leave it.’ We are often asked why we are located there, as if we had a choice in the matter. We did not.”

“In 1949, the administration exhibited indifference and arrogance,” Dr. Shanta said, indicating those yellowing pages of history were still fresh in her mind. At that time, the WIA received a communication from the Health Secretary. It said it could not afford the fancy of a cancer institute.” The communiqué further wished the venture luck, while doubting the possibility of its success at the same time.

Despite that government and its indifferent attitude, the institution grew and thrived. From a 12-bedded unit functioning in a thatched structure with two medical officers (Dr. Krishnamurthy and Dr. Shanta), sheer perseverance and the determination to help people with no other hope pushed this unit from strength to strength. Working with the motto “To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always” the Cancer Institute is now a 450-bedded unit, state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic centre for cancer, research institution, teaching institution, and as Ms. Jayalalithaa said, “a place of miracles.” She also told the audience that she had learnt from Dr. Shanta that the Cancer Institute had applied for an upgrade to the status of a Centre of Excellence, and that the proposal was pending with the Union Government for approval. “I have written to the Prime Minister of India regarding the pending request of the Cancer Institute…That its status should no more be that of a tertiary cancer institute; but should be elevated to the status of a centre of excellence – an autonomous National Cancer Research Institute.”

She went on to say, “We are waiting the approval of the present Government of India. If the approval fails to materialise, I solemnly assure Dr. Shanta that next year, there will be a friendly government at the Centre that will immediately afford the necessary approval for recognition of the Cancer Institute as a Centre of Excellence.”

Needless to say, she received a resounding ovation. And, that would also be the beginning of the relationship between the Cancer Institute and yet another government.