For more than 30 years, Shanti Avedna Sadan in Loutolim has been taking care of advanced terminally ill cancer patients for free of cost. The Sadan is somewhere between a home nor a hospital in fact it offers specialised care of the hospital together with love of a home for those patients who have less chances of recovery. In conversation with NT NETWORK administrator of Shanti Avedna Sadan, Sr Jobina Ambattu gives an insight into the kind of services they provide and how they are helping the patients relieve the pain of cancer
VENITA GOMES| NT NETWORK
“Cancer is one of the most painful diseases in which a patient goes through peculiar stages of death and suffers immensely. Despite the advances in medical sciences there are a lot of unfortunate patients who have lost the battle with cancer and are still living – broken in body, mind and soul. To help patients crossover with minimal pain Shanti Avedna intervenes so that they are at peace with themselves until they breathe their last,” says Sr Jobina, who has been the administrator of Shanti Avedna for the past two years.
History of Shanti Avedna
Since its inception in 1986 Shanti Avedna Sadan has been silently taking care of those dying of cancer through palliative care and treatment.
A cancer surgeon and managing trustee of the hospice, L J de Souza realised that the patients did not want instant death (euthanasia) but wanted to live a comfortable and symptom-free life until they faced death. “Around 30 years ago de Souza was giving a talk on euthanasia. A week prior to this he was called to see a cancer patient living in a hutment. She was bed bound and had RVF (Rectovaginal fistulas) and VVF (Vesico-vaginal Fistula) with cancer of the cervix. After he examined her she kept asking the doctor ‘How long will it take for me to get well? Do your best, I want to be comfortable and active if possible’ it is then de souza realised that nobody wanted euthanasia but wanted to be happy, symptom-free and comfortable and so de Souza conceptualised the idea of starting Shanti Avedna one of the first hospices in India,” adds Sr Jobina.
Today, Shanti Avedna Sadan has three centres all over the country. The first Sadan was opened on November 2, 1986 at Bandra, Mumbai; the second was the Goa centre, started on November 15, 1986 and the third was the Delhi Shanti Avedna Sadan which opened on November 4, 1993.
It is an entirely a non-governmental voluntary organisation, looked after by a Charitable Trust.
The support and care
provided at Shanti Avedna
When brought to Shanti Avedna, the patient is received by the staff and made comfortable. They are washed and cleaned and assigned a bed. They are then given initial medication as necessary, so that they feel relaxed. The formalities are filled in by the relatives, and the honorary doctor examines the patient and prescribes further necessary medication. Sr Jobina adds that at Shanti Avedna there is no specific treatment given for cancer. “Prior to the enrolment at the institution the patient exhausts all possible treatments and medication. We offers care to the patients who have no hope of recovery. Usually the first approach towards dealing with advanced terminally ill cancer patients is to support them psychologically and to listen to their problems and concerns. After which we need to create an environment in which they are comfortable and relaxed.”
Creating a different atmosphere for the patients
The patients are given various relaxation and recreational facilities, such as games, television, visits to the garden, outings etc. They are also given vocational training to keep them occupied, or else are visited by groups that entertain them. All major festivals like Diwali, Christmas are celebrated to bring joy into their lives. “We had patients who would sit outside in the open and play musical instruments and have a nice time with other inmates. Also, in the evenings the inmates would interact with one another and watch some good movies and listen to good songs to divert their mind and their family members also would visit them occasionally,” says Sr Jobina who also mentions a sad fact that there are few cancer patients who have no families while there are some whose family have left them at the hospice and have never come back to visit them.
Cases of cancer with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
Advance and terminally ill cancer patients also suffering from AIDS are also taken care of by the sisters and nurses at Shanti Avedna. “When we enroll a patient we first ask them to get an HIV test done because recently the cases of AIDS and Hepatitis and Hepatitis B have increased in Goa. There are patients who have cancer and are affected by AIDS and Hepatitis B; we accept those patients but at the same time we take precautionary and safety measures while handling them as our nurses and our volunteers also need to be safe while handling them,” says Sr Jobina. She believes that just because some people suffer from such sickness it is not right to leave them to their fate but to help them cope with their problems. “Our motto is to ‘Add life to days and not days to life’ and we have been following it. We are doing our bit to keep people happy and show them the other side of life, not known to many” says Sr Jobina smiling pleasantly. She believes she has found real happiness and is trying to help the others find the same.
A little more about Shanti Avedna
Interestingly, the name ‘Shanti Avedna Sadan’ was especially thought of for the hospice as ‘Shanti’ translates to peace, ‘Avedna’ means no pain and ‘Sadan’ means a house of rest. And the location in Loutolim where the hospice operates was donated by Elvira Noronha who wanted her lavish ancestral house to serve a good cause. Today, the whole team consisting of volunteers, social workers, occupational therapists, counsellors, and religious advisors come forward to provide assistance to the advanced terminally ill cancer patients. Sr Jobina also explains more about the hospice, she says: “At Shanti Avedna Sadan there are absolutely no charges levied. Hence, there are no private rooms in any of the branches. The patients are always encouraged to be in the wards, as they can be looked after better and never remain lonely. The single rooms are not given on request, but are allotted by the nursing staff according to the needs of the patients.”
Though the institution is functioning for more than 30 years in Goa there are not many who are aware of it and therefore Sr Jobina seeks help to spread the word so that many people can come and avail the benefit and gain a new perspective towards life.