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The medicine man
Dr Suresh Advani is an irrepressible crusader for better support and care for cancer patients.
He could be called the father of medical oncology in the country who has added years to the life of countless cancer patients. But for all that, Dr Suresh Advani's demeanour is remarkably simple. The 65-year-old wheelchair-bound oncologist still clocks 17 hours a day, hops from one end of the city to another and treats every kind of patient - the poor and the rich - with equal verve and dedication.
Polio struck the doctor when he was barely eight years old but it did not deter him from striving for what many only dream of. The endless trudge through hospitals looking for a solution for his medical condition only fired his urge to become a doctor.
Today, he says, a high-end wheelchair allows him to do everything that a normal individual can. He is a consultant in four of Mumbai's top hospitals, reaches out to patients on phone as well as through online medium, besides guiding his wife Geeta, 60, in her NGO Helping Hand's activities. "India is not a disability-friendly country. I have been lucky to afford a car that can drive me around, " he says.
Barring the initial struggle to get into the Grant Medical College in Byculla in 1966 when they were "too afraid" to allow a polio-stricken youth to study medicine, Advani insists the ride has been smooth. He recollects writing to the state asking for intervention then. "They wrote to me saying I could study medicine at my own risk, " he says. His graduation was followed by further degrees from the US and UK before he returned home to work at the premier Tata Memorial Hospital for 30 years.
Advani is the pioneer of bone marrow transplant for leukemia in the country. He takes pride in having witnessed the birth and growth of medical oncology in the country first-hand. "The advancement in chemotherapy and radiotherapy has made many incurable cancers curable. Now, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can add up to 10 years to a cancer patient's life. Cancer is no more a death sentence, " he says. "We don't amputate anymore or remove breasts. That is what medical oncology has achieved. "
Advani says time has come to also look into providing simple support care for patients. "We are working on developing a mouthwash for patients to maintain oral health while they are undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Cancer patients often suffer from oral mucositis but there is hardly any thought given to tackle it, " he said. (Oral mucositis refers to painful inflammation and ulceration in the mouth as a result of chemotherapy. )
Advani dreams that some day cancer specialists will be available in every corner of the country. "The cost of drugs is nothing when compared to the distance patients travel. The ratio of 5, 000 cancer specialists for over 1. 22 bn people is unacceptable. We have to beat all odds and reach out to more, " he says.
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