J.R. was my friend. She was diagnosed with Breast Cancer Stage 3 in 2018 but was pregnant at the time. She delayed the management of her illness because she wanted to be sure that her baby would be born healthy. After she gave birth, she had a short course chemotherapy to decrease the bulk of her breast tumor which had grown immensely. Her surgery was immediately scheduled followed by another course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, I never knew that she had the disease until after her surgery, when she brought her son to me for well-baby check-up in my clinic. I heard the frustration and fear in her voice when her treatment failed and she developed complications like a boil that was continuously draining pus near the incision site after her radiotherapy sessions as well as the body weakness, headache and other body pains after every intravenous therapy. But what bothered her the most and affected her healing was that she was not satisfied with the way her doctor managed her cancer. She decided to look for another doctor whom she felt was more concerned about her and willing to listen to her questions and worries. I was her sounding board when she felt lost and scared but I felt helpless because I didn't want to interfere with what her physician was doing. All I could offer were words of encouragement, dietary advice and prayers. However, she succumbed to cancer in 2019. I wish I could have done something more to help her.
Cancer patients require a lifeline, someone they can hold on to and whom they trust to help them in their journey of healing. Here are the three things that they need from their attending physicians.
Simplify the terms that you use to explain your plans. They don't need you to impress them with medical terms that only you can understand. When the operation entails removal of an organ or tissue like a modified radical mastectomy, inform them that it means you will remove the whole breast including the lymph nodes which will leave a scar that will extend from the midline of the chest up to the armpit.
When they look at you with a blank stare, ask them questions to find out if they understand, especially about the possible side effects of the chemotherapeutic drugs that you will administer. Then, listen attentively to their answers so that you will know their concerns.
When cancer patients come to you for follow up, please take the time to find out how they are and how has the treatment affected them. They want empathy. Show them that you care about what happens to them. Give them the comfort and courage that they need as they battle this dreaded disease. Praise them for their efforts of wanting to be well.
I remember the first session of my chemotherapy. I came to my doctor's clinic clad in a loose white t-shirt with print, baggy blue denim pants and sandals. I also wore a face mask even though there was no COVID 19 pandemic at that time because I was scared of contracting any disease after my chemotherapy session due to a lower immune system. When my surgeon saw me, he exclaimed: "An'yare? Bakit ganyan ang ayos mo at naka-face mask ka?" (What happened? Why are you dressed like that?" Why are you wearing a face mask?). I replied" "Doc, di ba first chemotherapy session ko ngayon?" Natatakot ako na baka ako mahawa." (Doc, isn't it my first chemotherapy session today? I'm scared to get infected.)
After three weeks, I came back for my second chemotherapy session. I wore a red sleeveless blouse, long skirt with red and black floral print, complete with a 2-inch black heels with shimmering crystal designs. I also donned a red shawl tied on my bald head which I kept in place by tying the edges like a ribbon and attached a brooch to keep it in place. As I entered the clinic, my doctor said: " Hello, Donya!"
Pray for your patients and let them see the face of Jesus Christ in you because you give them hope. You tell them not to be afraid but to believe that the healing is in their hands because they can do all things through Christ who strengthens and heals. Empower them so that they will think that with God, nothing is impossible and that there is no limit to what God can do through you. You are God's instrument to help them heal.
If you are a physician taking care of a cancer patient or any allied health practitioner ministering to the needs of any patient, don't forget the three things that every patient needs...
COMMUNICATION, COMPASSION and CHRIST.
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