Friday, May 19, 2006

How to appreciate your oncologist

I just saw this link posted yesterday by Bora at Science & Politics. It's a truly heart-warming story about the kind of things that go on at Duke University 99.9% of the time:

Patient's Family Says 'Thank You' For Saving Life

DURHAM, N.C. -- For three years, Ara Everett has been treated for Stage 4 breast cancer and a brain tumor. But she has survived longer than she and her family ever expected.

They give the credit to Dr. Heather Shaw, an oncologist at Duke University Medical Center.

Everett's daughter, Erica Green, wrote to NBC17 to ask Triangle Wishes to honor Shaw and the medical staff that have provided such personal care for her mother.

"How do you say thank you to doctors, the people that save your life?" Green wrote in her e-mail. "We hear all of the bad stuff about doctors these days. It's time to thank them for the awesome work they do to benefit so many."

Triangle Wishes arranged for Piper's Tavern to provide a luncheon for Shaw and the Oncology Department staff at the Duke Medical Center.

"We just wanted to say, from the appointment coordinators who greet her and see her standing, struggling and say, 'Sit down, Ms. Everett, we got it,' to the nurses that whisk her back and take care of her and bring her crackers and soda if they see she's jittery to Dr. Shaw and all the surgeons, we just really wanted to say thank you to everybody in a big way," Green said.

The video of the story can be accessed here.

I post this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that PharmMom is a 23-year breast cancer survivor - had such a mechanism existed back then, I would have been beating down the doors of my local TV station to do a story about my Mom's miraculous oncologist in northern New Jersey. I applaud the marvelous Everett family and daughter Erica Green for going the extra mile to find a way to thank their medical oncologist and her entire team.

The other reason is that, like my blog bud Orac, this oncologist (and all of her colleagues) does this kind of work every day, week after week, year after year. And while doctors do get compensated reasonably most academic physicians, even in the best teaching hospitals, make little more than a first-year MBA grad.

Moreover, they are expected to balance the provision of top-quality, cutting-edge medical care with grant-writing, research (basic and clinical), teaching med students, fellows, and mid-level colleagues, as well as fighting with university and hospital administrators about funds and the basic resources to do their jobs. All the while, the fat cats at health insurers are living quite high on the hog, often off the blood, sweat, and tears of oncologists like Orac and Dr. Shaw (not to mention the vomit, urine, and feces). In fact, "declining reimbursement and rising overhead" has been cited in the recent decision by Medpundit to hang up her keyboard from medblogging because her medical practice leaves little time for even a family life.

I'm a cancer researcher and I hope that one day my discoveries help real people fight their real cancer. In the meantime, I hope that the academic medical system can remain sustainable over the long-term to retain such great docs as Orac and the aforementioned Dr. Shaw so such discoveries can be brought to cancer patients in such a loving and compassionate manner.

If you're going to see you doctor this week or next, any kind of doctor, take a few minutes to say 'thank you.' Say 'thank you' to the nurses, the receptionists..anyone who looks like they are involved in your care.

They are all fighting a battle to keep us healthy that many of us never see.


At Fri May 19, 08:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anjou said...

My Rad Onc was wonderfully compassionate with me six years ago, when I was frightened and didnt know if I'd live to see the next spring. He spent lots of time with me, discussing my fears and calming me. I know he could make tons more money if he worked outside a teaching hospital as my brother is a rad onc who runs a private clinic.

I planted crocuses that fall with the hopes that I'd get to see them. Each year since, Ive planted more and each spring I have a beautiful reminder of how precious life is.

So, in appreciation, I gave him a print I'd made of an amarylis bulb blooming, told him its meaning to me, and thanked him for his kindness. He reminded me, at our recent appointment, that its hanging in his office.

These folks have tough jobs so, its important to let them know theyve done a good job. As a psychologist in private practice, I know how touched I am when I get a nice note from a patient some time after we've stopped, telling my how well they are doing and letting me know that our work together was helpful.

At Fri May 19, 09:14:00 AM EDT, Anonymous anjou said...

PS Congrats to Heather from Bill and I!!

At Tue May 23, 09:03:00 AM EDT, Anonymous difficult patient said...

You are so right--thanks for the reminder . . .

At Fri Oct 19, 10:38:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi You all,

I just read this blog. My name is Erica Green. I am saddened to share with you, that my mom - Ara Everett - passed from her 4 and a half year battle with breast cancer on Friday August 31st, 2007.

Please keep us in your thoughts.

Erica Green

At Fri Oct 19, 05:29:00 PM EDT, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Dear Miss Erica,

I had already heard the sad news about your lovely Mom - please know that your family has the condolences of my family and the readers of this blog. You are wonderfully warm people to have treated Dr Shaw and her staff so nicely and I know that they all wished they could've given your Mom even more time.

I would welcome the chance to talk with you more so, if you are inclined, please send an e-mail to me at


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