Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cancer Heroes: Our Oncologists

          In short:  they are terrific.  Laughing and cancer aren't the likeliest twins but we had a few (laughs, that is) during our hour-long talk.  
          A number of incredible moments -- completely unexpected -- evolved.  The show's producer, Patty Hall, had described the physicians' interviewing style as "intuitive and organic" and I was open to that.  Both doctors, I was honored to discover, had read an article of mine that was published last week by Lynn Lane on his web site for cancer survivors,

         At one point Dr. Chachoua read aloud a few sentences I'd written about my Mother's death from cancer in l987:  
        "Sometimes the tools we have to help someone we love so much feel small.  Toward the end of my Mother's life, it was the offer of a wash cloth, a sip of Pepsi, an assurance that for this minute -- for right now, I am right here by your side.  The closer you walk to death the clearer this becomes."  
        Then Dr. Chachoua, a specialist in the treatment of lung cancer and recipient of an American Cancer Society career development award, talked about the deep loss he felt after losing a patient unexpectedly earlier in the week.
         In that instant the topic went from being facts, figures and numbers to a deeply felt moment by professionals who dedicate their careers, work 15 - 16 hour days, research and see patients in their quest to help find a cure for cancer.

         And in that instant I could not help but thank Drs. Chachoua and Formenti on behalf of all cancer survivors and their families.  Without physicians of their humanity and calibre we would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
        We walk minefields with our oncologists.  In so many cases we are able to celebrate and cross an imaginary finish line.  Sometimes it is not so happy, but there they are, extending their knowledge, and when we're very fortunate, an extraordinary humanity.
         My question to who:  who was the oncologist who made the difference in your journey?  Please comment and tell us about him or her.   I really look forward to hearing from you.



Debbie said...

Hi Jody,
Great post and so glad you shared a little of the radio program with us, I look forward to hearing it sometime.
I have a few doctors who made a BIG difference in my cancer journey. First was my Surgeon, an amazing lady named Dr Nancy Landay. She was confident, competent and caring, three very important qualities! She gave me the facts, the suggestions and the hugs and she has always been on top of my care.
Second was Dr Jay Harris, the head of Radiation Oncology at Dana Farber. He is an amazing man and has been a beacon of light in the dark. He is so knowledgeable, caring and with a great bedside manner. I just want to take him home with me, he makes me feel very safe.
There have been many others who are great and supportive and give me hugs and help me through. But these 2 are the standouts for me.
I trust them implicitly.
Thanks for asking me to share!
Love you, Debbie

Anonymous said...

Jody, I am so proud of you for being the voice of the survivor amongst the oncologists. Sadly, my experience with my oncologist was not a positive one, but it is heartening for me to hear that there are heroes out there too in this field. Well done again on what I am sure was a terrific interview. Marie x

ElizabethT said...

Jody was a terrific guest and will be coming back next week to continue her interview--they couldn't get through everything!! If you want to hear part 2, starting at 12:30 pm eastern time on Wednesday, 1/20, sign up for a free trial at

I'd love to hear from more of you about what we can talk about on the show that is of interest to YOU. Please feel free to contact me at

Thanks so much again, Jody!
Patty Hall

Jody said...

It's neat for me to hear more about your incredible cancer journey -- I have a great picture of your oncologists from what you told us.

I ended up with a "dream team" of medical oncologist, Richard Theriault,D.O., surgeon Merrick Ross,MD, radiation oncologist Eric Strom,MD, then finally, plastic surgeon Geoffrey Robb, MD. They were all so fabulous and each deserving of their own post.....more topics for all of us perhaps?

So so glad to hear from you.


Jody said...

I want to hear more about your experience. What's good to know is that medical students and others in the caring professions can learn from our feedback. I'm sorry your experience wasn't the best -- we all know how essential good care is during such a critical time of our lives.

Jody said...

Patty, I'll let everyone know about your request! Really enjoy working with you!

Annemieke said...

Dear Jody.

As you know I don't have an oncologist but just wanted to let you know I enjoyed reading your blog (as usual) and I'm happy you shared some of the interview with us. Still hope i will be able to listen to it one day. Love you, you are amazing, Annemieke

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post Jody, and thanks for sharing a bit of the radio show. Let me know how I can hear it sometime.

I was only 16 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. At that time (1992)there was no one specializing in Hodgkin's disease at the children's hospital. So I went to Lions Gate hospital in North Vancouver, Canada. My oncologist was Dr. Klimo. He was confident, extremely knowledgeable and as they said "one of the best". What I remember most, is the way the team or nurses made me feel. They worked so hard to make my chemo sessions (usually 4-7 hours) fun, comfortable and they all were extremely caring and devoted to the only kid in the block.

I think what is so special about Dr. Klimo and his team of nurses is that they became like a second family to us, literally. When my grandmother was diagnosed with liver cancer, Dr. Klimo was her oncologist. I got to visit her and see the team, no longer as a patient but now as a visitor and as a grand daughter who was relying on them to help her in her fight. In 1999, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, and again, Dr. Klimo was his miracle worker. My father's cancer journey went on for 8 years. My visits to the chemo unit were like a second home. In 2007, 15 years after my diagnosis, there were still 3 of the same nurses that treated me. What a feeling of relief. I would have never chosen another team for my father. I fully trusted them with one of the people I loved the most.

Dr. Klimo and the nurses will always have a big piece of my heart. I heard through the grapevine that he is retiring. Just to think that the doctor that played such an important role in our lives will no longer be helping others in their cancer journey, brings me sadness. However, I get to focus on all that he gave to us and so many other families. I am forever grateful!

Marie Ennis said...

Well Jody, I have been reflecting since on my less than positive experience and have realised it was the very thing that led me to become an advocate. It was based on one issue in particular which I have written about and would love to hear you and your readers feedback on this:

Jody said...

I first remember reading the incredible story you wrote about caring for your father and did not even realize that your own "survivorship" started at such an early age. At 16 we are learning to drive, learning all about life and boyfriends....not dealing with cancer. What a blessing the oncologist (& humanitarian, as all gifted physicians are) Dr. Klimo ended up helping you, then your beloved Grandmother and Father. In this time of specialization (we go the breast oncologist, husband goes to melanoma oncologist, etc.) it also helps for all of us to remember the time and place where the general oncologist can and did deal with so many different cancers.

His example -- and the way he trained his staff which is just AS if not more important -- will leave a huge dent in the cancer community. But at the same time we can be sure he inspired at least two more generations to try to fill his shoes.

Wow. Thanks so much.


Jody said...

I'm glad to that MD Anderson has put together a program to help physicians communicate with empathy and clarity.

I can also understand how your experience with good docs/lousy communicators left you with a less than favorable memory! Mine is full of really difficult conversations with doctors as I was growing up. My mother was a really cool lady in a doomed body. She had one problem after another and I have never even been able to count the number of times I was in a hospital growing up...from different places in Iowa, the Mayo Clinic etc.

I know how that fueled my desire to help others; and I can only say I'm so grateful you were able to transform your own experience into one that provides you with immeasurable reward.


Jody said...

One last thought: if any of you have questions or topics for me to talk about on Sirius Wednesday let me know before 11 am CST on Wed., Jan 20.

Love you all,

Anonymous said...

What a great entry! Thank you for highlighting oncologists that are making a difference in the lives of many women. We love your mention of humor & cancer treatment--we recently posted an entry about that very topic!

Jody said...

Thanks for stopping by! I really enjoy your work. Please visit again.

Megan said...

The story you told about our mom's last days and your question about oncologists reminded me of Mom's oncologist in Ames. I wish I could remember his name, but I don't. I recall thinking that he was a good man and a good doctor, but one day I realized he was an angel. He sat down on Mom's bed while she slept. He touched her gently to wake her, and when she did, his face changed utterly. He greeted her with a simple "Hi". But it was his affect and tone, full of tenderness and compassion, that blew me away. He spoke to her as if she was family, someone beloved to him. I decided then and there that oncologists were a different breed. I will remember that lovely man, and that moment of grace that he gave Mom and me, for the rest of my life.