November 24, 2015
· By Tracey F. Weisberg MD
It seems only appropriate that at this time of year, we take a moment to reflect upon Gratitude.
Curiously, one would think that people diagnosed with cancer would have a difficult time during the holidays being grateful. After all, they are battling all the uncertainties of cancer when the rest of the community is having fun cooking, shopping, baking and having parties. I have actually found this not to be the case. My patients usually are able to express thankfulness and gratefulness perhaps with more expression than one experiencing a peaceful time in their life.
Please do not misunderstand me on this issue. No one wants this kind of diagnosis, especially around the holidays. Everyone would be happier baking cookies and going to parties. We are all grateful when there is a great check-up, blood-work normal, mammogram and colonoscopy check out A+. I am also equally certain that people diagnosed with cancer are incredibly grateful to be declared once and for all “cancer free”, especially if this declaration occurs around the winter holidays.
I have not personally experienced cancer myself, but I have lived immediately adjacent to it now for 28 years. Almost always, a cancer diagnosis causes or completes a transformation already in progress in a person and family. It demands personal reflection, assessment of body image, confrontation of mortality, reassessment of accomplishments and goals yet unmet, and almost always reconnection with family and love. Cancer is a universally scary diagnosis because of concerns about physical pain and death, but in a strange and sometimes poetic fashion, it grounds people back to the basic drivers of their human needs.
And it grounds each and every person invited into their cancer journey. This is what I am most grateful for and the biggest lesson learned during my time as a medical oncologist.
Today there are many ways to contribute in the field of Medicine. There are researchers making new discoveries, technology and treatments. There are educators that make certain that new health care providers are schooled with the latest knowledge and skills for the future needs of the country. There are policy makers that grapple with cost and distribution of services. Each and every one of them makes a contribution to a cancer patient’s life, yet they are distanced from the individual’s experience. They do not have an opportunity to directly learn from patients, experience their wisdom, and to live their unique challenges.
I am grateful to have such proximity to my patients and an opportunity to not only contribute, but learn from them every day of my life.
Our patients are our work, our careers, our passion and an important portion of our ongoing education in cancer care. They are our “University of Life”. Without them and their unique experiences, we as care providers would have no way to learn, grow, improve and connect with the true meaning of living with cancer. We would lack any real-time experience in evaluating the true benefits of treatment and technology advances. We would have no basis for making a difference, or improving or listening to what really is important and meaningful on the journey to recovery from cancer.
Many people ask me “How do you do the work you do, day in and day out? It must be so sad for you….it must make you so tired. I could never do that kind of work.”
The answer is always the same. This is the best job and best life I could have ever asked to experience. I do not know all the drivers that make the staff of New England Cancer Specialists come back to work each day. I suspect that for many of my coworkers, it is an overwhelming drive and value of human connection, a sense of worth and being needed, and a commitment to the overall goal of someday making cancer a thing of the past.
To each and every person that we have served at New England Cancer Specialists, we are grateful for all you have taught us. This work with you is richer than any university, nursing or medical school course. We thank-you for inviting us into your lives, and for trusting our advice and judgment.
A very Happy Thanksgiving to you ALL!