Embodiment of compassion and competence, Dr.V.P.Gangadharan

Reshmy Krishnakumar
Monday, March 14, 2016

Kuwait expatriate society is now familiar with the name Dr.V.P. Gangadharan, the pioneer medical oncologist from Kerala. During his various visits to Kuwait, he has been touching the lives of many through his words. He is the hope and confidence for cancer patients who are immersed in despair. While he gives all credits to the technology advancements in Oncology, his patients believe in his divinity. IIK is happy to share with its readers few moments from an interaction with this divine personality.

IIK: We are extremely happy to present a personality like you on the platform of indiansinkuwait.com. Welcome Sir.
Dr. VPG: Thank You. It is always a pleasure to interact with people and share thoughts.

IIK: I have attended many of your seminars and read most of those short notes which gets published regularly on media. Always I had a feel that your words are more like a life trainer or a motivational speaker, than a doctor. Could you explain this?
Dr. VPG: Being an Oncology doctor, my experience with patients is totally different. I witness the emotional trauma of those people whose life took a U-turn in split of a second. Those things, which were of high values till date, were no longer a priority for them. Witnessing this on a daily basis, we get a chance to understand the real value of life, what it should be and how it should be. It will naturally influence our attitude and will force us to redefine the values in life. We realize that, in crisis nothing matters; be it one’s religion, caste, career, education, prestige, or financial and social status. I believe that this message has to be passed on to the society and for that the medium is irrelevant as long as the purpose is met. Consequently it gets reflected in my words. If at least one among many who hear me can benefit from it, I am happy.

IIK: How does the positive attitude of a patient helps fighting cancer? With a fear, will they be able to sustain this attitude throughout the treatment period?
Dr. VPG: Positive attitude works positively on the curing process and the outcome will be different for such patients. No one can be at ease, at the moment you know that you are a cancer patient. What matters is, when he turns and decides to fight back. To some extent we can help them in sustaining the attitude. The key issue is to create the attitude to fight back. Here, doctors can influence them and as we gain experience it is effortless to mould them and bring to a positive track, especially the kids. Also this is not done by hiding the bitter truth from them. Common issue seen is that they start feeling as a burden to all. That feeling is taken out and we assure them that they are the most wanted people and they have to come back.

IIK: Coming from a family of business background, what made you to take up the field of medicine?
Dr.VPG: Even though my father was running a business, he was not so adamant that we should follow his path. One of my brothers is an engineer and another one is a doctor. Obviously he suggested the third one, that’s me, to take up business and my mother wanted me to be a doctor. Actually I was given the name of my uncle Dr. V.P. Gangadharan, who died even before my birth and that was the base of her wish. For the reason that I started schooling at Tirupur from class three at the age of 5, I could finish 12th grade at an early age of 15 and there was no chance to apply for professional courses unless I am 17. As far as I was concerned, there was no clear vision of what is to be done after 12th and thus to support family business of printing, I joined for B.Sc. in Chemistry. After the course my performance at our business was ‘so good’ that we all got to realize, business was not my cup of tea. By that time, I crossed the age of 17 and decided to join medicine.
IIK: That’s an interesting story and naturally the question follows, how come you opted for Oncology?
Dr.VPG: It was pure destiny which landed me up in Oncology, a real long journey with lots of twists. I completed MBBS and in those days, Oncology was a rejected area, where no developments were seen. Radiotherapy was the only stream and that too selected by those who didn’t get any other major steams. At the All India Institute Entrance for joining MD, I gave the first choice as medicine and the second choice was radiotherapy. The second choice was made, with not much interest, at the influence of certain friends who did MD in Radiotherapy. They gave me confidence on the prospects of the subject. It was by destiny that I got selection for my second choice. Initially I felt it as a wrong choice, but later when we started seeing patients the whole scenario changed. I started loving it. By the time I finished the course, DM Medical Oncology was introduced for the first time at Adayar. The seats were limited and the preferred basic qualification was MD in Medicine. Then I came back and got admission for MD.Medicine at Kottayam and completed it successfully with a clear vision and determination to pursue DM. Medical Oncology at Adayar. That is where I started redefining myself. At the institute, the attitude and attachment towards patients were totally a different experience for me and I found my path. From there I have never turned back and the journey still continues.

IIK: In a patient’s view point, it is obvious that he or she will feel comfortable with a doctor who is very friendly and closely attached. At the same time our doctors are taught to keep a safe distance, emotionally, with them. How this gets tallied in your field?
Dr.VPG: You are right, theoretically, we are taught not to be emotionally attached to any patients as it can affect us or our decision making as a doctor during the treatment. But for me it’s the other way around. Irrespective of your specialization, I believe that, the doctor should be attached to the patients and if he is not emotionally attached, then what all he does won’t be in proper spirit. Most importantly he should be able to give that feel of rapport with the patient.

IIK: Such a rapport would surely be beneficial for the patients and the treatment. But how this is going to touch the concerned doctor?
Dr.VPG: Such an affection and attachment will build your professional satisfaction. Being attached with the patients and their family members will take away all your professional stress at the hospital. For me being at the hospital OP, meeting whoever walks in as a patient, is of no difference than being with my family members or friends, discussing their matter. I don’t even feel that I am doing my job. Further, the belongingness that we feel to them will take you to that plane of relationship which is unimaginable. The response, care and concern that you get back from them will take you forward through your profession. It extends from a small biscuit packet kept silently on your table to a long term bond.

IIK: Do we have such dedicated doctors in younger generation?
Dr.VPG: Of course we have and they are equally committed to their profession. In fact, there are many doctors who took this profession due to compulsion from family. They might be brilliant students and after the course technically they might be good at their profession too. But they won’t be able to put their heart and soul into it since they are still unhappy being here. In such cases we might come across good doctors, but not the dedicated and compassionate ones. How can we expect them to be happy and compassionate to others when they themselves are not comfortable in this field?

IIK: For a profession like yours, do you think the system of entrance examination is in any way helping to screen the future dedicated doctors.
Dr.VPG: Unfortunately it’s a NO. Long back, this profession was an open arena for all. Educational background, caliber and interest of the student alone were counted for MBBS admission and the student community reflected the cross section of our society. Today the case is different. Now the entrance exam is structured in such a way that it will only be cleared by those students who can afford to join a center and undergo an intense entrance coaching. A studious boy or girl coming directly from colleges is not able to get through. Consequently, the financial status of a student plays a crucial part in MBBS admission and thus the cross section of the society is not visible there now.

IIK: In that case, what would be your message to the parents who want their kids to be in this profession?
Dr.VPG: Being a doctor should never be by force, it should be by personal choice. Otherwise it will be a loss to themselves and the society. I know a person who was interested to join Engineering. But due to family pressure he became a doctor and was never happy and contented. It was then he got selection for biomedical engineering and I suggested him to grab the opportunity. He is now excelling in his field and claims happily that he met his goal. I would request the parents to know your child before deciding their fate.

IIK: In your opinion what makes medical profession different from others?
Dr.VPG: All the profession has its own dignity, value, and unique space in the society and all needs dedication and involvement. Still, as I always say, teachers and doctors are ones who get back much more than what they have given. Even then, there is a difference in a teacher and a doctor. If the teacher is good, he/she will be remembered by the students forever. From my experience, a doctor will be remembered by all, even if the patient has died. One of my patients died 18 years ago and I still get call from his father on the day of his son’s remembrance. Though their son has gone, he feels a sort of belongingness to me. He feels that I have done what all I should have done for his son. This is what I am getting back from this profession and at the end of the day, these emotional bindings tallies my account.

IIK: With all these research and development activities in the medical filed, now people like you affirm that cancer is curable. Still the society approach cancer with a fear. Is that a communication gap?
Dr.VPG: Cancer awareness programs are organized and conducted all over by various associations and groups and the number of attendees at each venue and their response is commendable. I should say, the fear for cancer has definitely decreased to a large extent. Even then the fear complex is there on one side and a persisting stigma of the society on the other. The whole family is seen to be under a shade of doubt. It gets reflected the most when it comes to marriages, unnecessarily assuming the chance for a hereditary factor in cancer incidence. Unlike other diseases, for example heart attack, people don’t even like to disclose that someone died due to cancer. There are many who had asked us not to disclose the cancer incidence to anyone and to the patient himself. They just want to maintain secrecy.

IIK: Is there really a chance of genetic factor in cancer incidence?
Dr.VPG: For certain type of cancer only and that too just 5%.

IIK: In that case do you think that the effectiveness of an awareness program is not penetrating down to the society from those who attend it?
Dr.VPG: To a certain extent we have to admit that such programs arranged for a confined group, will remain in themselves and their family circle.
IIK: So what can be done to overcome this?
Dr.VPG: Campaigns are found more effective and the target group is also important. Educating student community will be more effective in creating a change in the society. Recently we had done a campaign for breast cancer among the college going girls and the caption given was ‘Save Your Mother’. They were given hands on training with dummies for self-examination and then assigned a task to go into their society and neighbourhood. They happily took the initiative and went further down into their area and the response was really good. Similarly, if the social workers who are already into the society, who is having personal contacts with families in their own area, are given proper training, they can help in educating people and creating awareness effectively. Even I would always suggest that from high school classes onwards, there should be provision in the curriculum to educate about all the lifestyle diseases, their prevention and cure. Gradually, this will have a great impact on the society.

IIK: You have always emphasized on the importance of early detection and screening than treatment for cancer. What is the attitude of our society towards it?
Dr.VPG: Detecting at the early stage makes cancer more curable, especially in cases like breast cancer. Once you understand the need of it, things are easy. There are incidents where only one person turned up at a camp where mammography was done free of cost and the transportation to the camp was provided. It is not that they don’t know the importance of early detection, but it is not in their priority list where they have to disturb their routine and attend such a camp, even if it is free of cost. When this was found a genuine factor, especially in financially not so stable target community in outskirts, a mobile mammogram was arranged and made it easy for them to reach the facility. The response was amazing. Even the number of people who attend normal awareness classes at such areas is huge and the impact a single session can have on them is massive. It is not that they don’t want to know, it is just that they don’t have chances. Learning from such experience, now Cochin Cancer Society is launching in April, a full-fledged, well equipped bus for the purpose exclusively in the suburbs.

IIK: Moving a step further, what can be done aiming at screening and early detection for the society at large?
Dr.VPG: As of now, neither we have any fixed screening centers nor a joined well-organized movement in favour to conduct it. Only certain random attempts like campaigns are there to fill the gap. We can introduce mandatory screening at various entry points of education, career etc. If they are not able to afford it on their own, the institution should have some provision to support at least some of them. These are all the small steps, which on implementing, majority of the incidence could be screened out at a very early stage.

IIK: Is cancer a lifestyle disease?
Dr.VPG: It is a lifestyle disease in the sense that, our transformed lifestyle and the influence of western culture in food and habits plays a vital role in the cancer incidence. Usage of tobacco and the new dietary habits are a major concern. The incidence of cancer is high in our state, where we claim to be the fastest advancing community, than in any other states of India, especially in breast cancer. Breast cancer projection for the year 2016 at the current rate of incidence, is 8500/year, which is quite disturbing. Furthermore, studies show that cancer incidence is having a higher rate at metropolitan cities of India than in villages. Similar is the case with obesity related cancer. This all indirectly points towards the impact of westernization in our lifestyle.

IIK: A person like you will definitely have a clear mission or dream to attain in life. Tell us about that.
Dr.VPG: The ambience at which the patient is given treatment is important for a disease like Cancer. To shut in a room of a hospital will have a higher possibility of driving them toward negative thoughts. There are many cases where the patient has to be admitted, but at the same time no need to be in the room 24 hours or need an extra care. In such cases, they will get fed up soon, especially the kids. My dream is a treatment center in a vast area, with rich panoramic view, which can add life to the routine of the patients. It should rather be a treatment village with a well-equipped inpatient facility and emergency tracking.

Thank You So Much for your time. Let your entire dream come true and all the very best.

Reshmy Krishnakumar is working with Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) as Research Assistant. Having done her post-graduation in Statistics, she worked as lecturer at St.Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, until her relocation to Kuwait. As a freelance writer, she is contributing to various magazines, blogs, and websites. Her passion includes classical dance, writing poems in Malayalam and Hindi. She is a member of the Writers’ Forum, Kuwait and the Indian Women In Kuwait (IWIK)
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