Friday, March 2, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Bears… OH MY!!!!!!

 The courage it takes to be a cancer patient and family.

“I don’t like this forest”, said Dorothy

“I think it will get darker before it gets lighter”, said the Scarecrow

Clinicians gather to seek each others opinions as to how to best support our patients. Often I receive consult requests from physicians. When I reply we talk about the patient, their clinical status but more than that, their personal situation. My next step is to meet the patient, their family and friends. Other times I meet people as I round in the treatment areas and inpatient floors.

Different diseases and their treatments often have a range of physical responses. The staff may ask a patient of they are experiencing symptoms such as pain, nausea, feeling tired, tenderness in a part of their body etc. or what is called “brain fog”. There may be transportation issues or the inability to perform necessary daily tasks. Our departments of social work and our navigators have an amazing range of knowledge and are a tremendous resource as well.

Patients may share with me that they don’t like the side effects however the staff are balancing them with medications or other suggestions. No one likes this forest. And it may get darker before it gets lighter as the scarecrow remarked. My support piece is to gather the parts of your experience that you may not be able to tell anyone else. Other times I have the profound joy of celebrating good news with you.

This week I was in conversation with numerous clinicians and other medical professionals discussing how we could make our patients feel better as they navigated their treatments. We also discussed what might make the experience easier.

Working in Radiation Oncology these last months has given me an additional view of what courage looks like. Courage looks like a patient whose spouse abandoned them and they come for treatment alone. Courage looks like overcoming panic. Courage looks like walking through the doors every day for 6 weeks. Courage looks like putting make-up on and a smile, and comforting the other patients as you wait for your own radiation. Courage is celebrating your last treatment with the staff. Courage is as varied as every person walking into our treatment center. I truly respect every one of you and am grateful you let me get to know you.

This week I was particularly moved by the courage it takes for not only the patients but their families and friends. Each of them “have to stay stay strong”, “can’t let him see me cry”, “what are ya gonna do?” every day.

I therefore ask YOU who are reading this. How could we as clinicians make this experience easier for you? One person said her reply was always help with kindness. I believe we do. What in a practical way would make your experience easier or better? No suggestion is too minor! One patient’s wife was concerned about parking so I consulted with our valet parking company to see if they could add additional staff on the days when Rad/Onc is the busiest. That is only one example.

I ask you to think and share. Is it the rooms’ paint color? Music? Privacy? Simple things or large requests I ask you to be open and creative. Please let me know. We cannot change the fact of cancer but possibly we may be able to make the road back out of the forest a less stressful and easier journey.

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