"You're the miracle patient," said a nurse there last year.
"Metastatic Melanoma patients three years out are...not many." Dr. Homsi, my main medical Dr. for 4 years.
None of these quotes are aimed at drawing high-fives & attaboys for me. I want you to think of what's behind each one of them.
Picture with me. You're on the way to another day at work. You work for one of the great healthcare facilities anywhere. You are close to the top of your profession. You're probably fairly well paid. (Aside: from this patient's perspective, I certainly hope so!)
And yet, despite all of that, you know that you'll spend this day the same way you spent most of your days at work: giving people bad news. In many cases, VERY bad news.
Where do such people come from? How do they face such grim workdays on a regular basis?
I couldn't do it. The worst things that ever happen at my job are a student failing a test or a class or not graduating because s/he didn't make a high enough grade from me. That's rough, and I dislike any of those scenarios.
But that's not in the same UNIVERSE of bad that the average medical professional at Anderson (and other such facilities) faces on a daily basis.
During the course of 20-something appointments seeing various Drs. & NPs & PAs & nurses, ranging from pretty bad-news visits to very good-news visits, I've asked. Pretty pointedly. "So, how do you handle coming in here knowing that you'll be the bearer of news usually from bad to VERY bad?"
The consensus seems to range from "We focus on the good news" (see comments above) to "We try to comfort whatever the news" to simply looking away & saying "It's tough..."
After nearly 30 visits in 4 years, plus 4 surgeries, plus 2 cycles of high-dose immunotherapy, I am still simply awestruck at the men & women out there. They're good at what they do, sure. But lots of people are good at what they do. What strikes Lisa & me is the depth of feeling & passion about what they do, in the face of what has to seem like an absolutely overwhelming hill to climb.
Again, I'm WAY outside the boundaries of probabilities for stage IV metastatic melanoma patients in terms of, well, still being here. Every good Dr. or nurse or NP or PA puts the patient first & foremost, and most try to relate to the patients as people. But picture doing this, knowing that your personal connection with your patients is likely to be rather short-term.
Lisa & Jim & I have commented that there's a feel out there that--at the risk of overdramatizing it--feels like those folks show up at work thinking "this could be the day"..."the day we've all worked toward & waited for"..."the day when this insidious thing called cancer is pushed back into the darkness of unpleasant memories"..."when an outright cure is found."
That goal & expectation is part of the DNA of Anderson (so to speak).
"The mission of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is to eliminate cancer in Texas, the nation, and the world through outstanding programs that integrate patient care, research and prevention, and through education for undergraduate and graduate students, trainees, professionals, employees and the public."
Simple, isn't it?
108,000 patients last year. 1 0 0 8 0 0.
10,000 patients participating in clinical trials.
$623,000,000 spent on just on cancer research last year.
6,800 medical professionals trained there last year.
18,000 employees total, spread among 50 separate buildings.
I've NEVER felt like I was merely part of a production process. NEVER felt like just a number. It's always "How are you doing, Mr. Madaris?" P.E.T. techs, nurses, phlebotomists, patient transport folks,...
Which probably explains why "for the 6th consecutive year, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has been named the nation's top hospital for cancer care" by U.S. News & World Report. (press release here)
"Everyone at MD Anderson - each one of our 19,000-plus employees and 1,100
volunteers - contributed to us remaining the number one cancer center in the
nation," said Ronald
A. DePinho, M.D., who is experiencing the national ranking for the first
time as president of MD Anderson. "It's an honor we share with all of our
patients, survivors and their loved ones, who challenge and motivate us every
day to pursue our mission, advance our knowledge and improve each person's
experience at our institution." (quoted in the press release linked above; emphasis mine)
"We shall be the premier cancer center in the world, based on the excellence
of our people, our research-driven patient care and our science. We are Making
Cancer History. "
(1-minute video with Dr. DePinho, MDA's President; I loved the phrase "that will bring this disease to its knees.")
I say again, I'm in awe. And I am so very thankful.