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She fought cancer,personally & professionally

Dr Dinshaw,67,died on Friday in Mumbai.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
August 30, 2011 2:08:21 am

In what was to be her last interview,Dr Ketayun Dinshaw,the first and only woman to have headed the country’s premier cancer care hospital,the Tata Memorial Hospital,told a former colleague interviewing her for the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics,last month,“If I have to live my life again,I will adopt the same profession with increased vigour.” That zest,say those who knew Dr Dinshaw,perfectly describes one of the country’s best known radiation oncologists who lost her own battle with cancer last week.

Dr Dinshaw,67,died on Friday in Mumbai.

Editor of the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics and chief oncologist at Mumbai’s Balabhai Nanavati Hospital,Dr Nagaraj Huilgol,says Dinshaw was always one to exceed targets,true of her own fight with cancer too. “She had already been through three or four cycles of chemotherapy when we organised a small event for her birthday,” Dr Huilgol says. Many of those who attended assumed it would be her last birthday,butshe went on to have another. “She fought very well,living longer than the statistical average,” Dr Huilgol says.

Conferred the Padma Shri in 2001,she also won several national and international awards for her work. Twin sister Kolly Dubash remembers the left-handed Ketayun as being the “tough one,the leader”. “She was the star of the family,” says Dubash,adding Dinshaw never spoke about the irony of personally battling the disease she had spent all her professional life dealing with. “She never ever said why me,she just fought bravely,never wanting any sympathy and instead always trying to shield us from what she was going through.”

Born in 1943 in a Parsi family in Kolkata as one of five sisters,Dinshaw went to Christian Medical College,Vellore,and later postgraduated from Addenbrooke’s Hospital,Cambridge. In 1974 she joined Tata Memorial Hospital as an assistant radiotherapist,starting a career that would span over 35 years including 13 as director. Dr Rajendra Badwe,current director and her colleague since 1980,says she replaced honoraries with doctors working dedicatedly at TMH. “That brought in a whole new work culture,introduced with trepidation by us but a system that all big corporate hospitals now follow.”

In her interview to the JCRT,she listed the physical renovation of the hospital,“more so with the treatment of patients remaining unaffected”,as one of her first big challenges after taking charge in 1997 and subsequently the launch of a telemedicine project as a major achievement. But it was possibly the setting up of Advanced Centre for Treatment,Research and Education in Cancer,the Kharghar-based R&D wing of Tata Memorial Centrein in 2002,that was her biggest milestone.

Institution-building was her strongest point,says Dr Huilgol,adding she will also be remembered for tackling some very sticky allegations of corruption. “Tata Memorial Hospital was being squeezed. The system was full of honoraries,leading to some financial irregularities. She made structural changes in the administration of the hospital,bringing in many full-timers but ensuring reasonable emoluments for them in a win-win situation. This worked to eliminate corruption,” says Dr Huilgol,who also worked with Dr Dinshaw for two years at TMH.

ACTREC director Prof Rajiv Sarin calls her an outstanding doctor,mentor,friend and administrator who could harness the goodwill of people. “She was also a stickler for punctuality,decorum and ethics,” Dr Sarin says,somebody who could annoy even close friends if she felt their wishes were not in the best interest of the larger cause. In Dr Badwe’s words,she was “gentle with the gentle,tough with the tough”.

Dr Dinshaw also contested elections to the Bombay Parsee Punchayet in October 2008 just before her retirement that November. The punchayet had granted universal adult franchise for the community to elect its leaders for the first time. She contested as part of a progressive group,which did not win.

A supporter of several NGOs,Dinshaw shared a personal rapport with everyone from wardboys and nurses to scientists and students. An art connoisseur and plant lover who remained single,she “almost single-handedly” executed the greening of the 6-acre ACTREC campus,including its Dinshaw Baug,Dr Sarin says.

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