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Jan 19, 2004
Jeevodaya - a cancer hospice

In the end, cancer is a disease about which no one has a clue—how or why or where it might strike; what causes it, how to diagnose it early or what is a definite cure for a particular cancer. Cancer strikes and slinks away revealing nothing, like the crab it is named after. The stark reality is that more people die than survive the various cures and treatments that are forever being rolled out.

Despite all this, there are surprisingly few places where the incurable may be cared for in their remaining days. Jeevodaya near Chennai is a rare exception. Located in a serene campus about 15 km north of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, it has 50 beds in very clean surroundings. It lavishes loving care on the dying. It deserves your active support.

Although it was begun and is being run by sisters of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation of Kerala, Jeevodaya is a non-religious, non-profit organisation. Sister Lalitha Teresa, the ever smiling nun who is the current Secretary drifted into Chennai about 15 years ago. She was looking for a way to give expression to the love her religion had engendered in her. Jeevodaya is the result. Early funding came from her congregation and overseas, but today it depends on local donors.

Sr. Lalitha says that all the spotlessly maintained buildings in the Jeevodaya campus, were built on faith-- and a conviction that money can always be found for a good cause. It was. And help, too. She says, there were many obstacles and problems but invariably solutions arrived from individuals, local people and even bureaucrats.

Dr. R Nanjunda Rao, a doyen medical practitioner of Chennai is the President. Dr Snehalata and Dr Manjula Krishnaswamy, two lady oncologists have been associated from the beginning, helping Sr. Lalitha realise her dream. [By a cruel irony, Dr Snehalata herself fell a victim to cancer recently.]

A team of smiling sisters minister to the patients. There is a chapel yes, but there is absolutely no religious compulsion. Prayers of all religions are welcome and encouraged. All festivals are celebrated. Entertainment and recreation programmes are arranged. When the end comes, last rites are performed based on the patient’s religious beliefs.

Dr Manjula, the Medical Director, explains the need for constant palliative care for terminally ill patients. For example, morphine is often the only drug that gives patients some comfort by relieving their pain. To keep pain at bay, it needs to be administered at four hourly intervals. But morphine is hardest to come by in India for several reasons. There is a mistaken belief that it is addictive. “It is not,” asserts Dr Manjula. “Addiction has to be distinguished from physical dependance, which means patients may have to continue taking morphine for long periods to keep themselves pain free. However, it is possible for the dose to be reduced and even discontinued, without any difficulty as the patient’s pain decreases.” Although India is a large producer of opium of which morphine is a derivative, laws have wrapped it impenetrably in order to guard against misuse. As a result, a physician prescribing it has to go through endless paper work. Most are unwilling to or cannot find the time. But Jeevodaya has earned the government’s trust as a responsible user and the untiring nuns are prompt in reaching it to those in pain.

Jeevodaya has also dormitory facilities for patient’s relatives to stay in. Altogether, it serves in ways most families can’t. Sr Lalitha says smilingly: “Yes, we do need all the money we can get because the services, food and medicines we offer are free for those who are needy. But do also write and tell your readers to refer to us anyone who needs to be cared for. We would be happy to welcome them.”

Donations to Jeevodaya are exempt from income Tax under Section 80G.
Address: 1/272 [Old: 1/86] Kamaraj Road
Chennai 600 068
Phone: 044-2555 55 65/ 2555 96 71

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