Monday, November 8, 2010

Hope Always: Dr. LaSalle Leffall

The older I get the more reserve I lose.  That's how I ended up in the second row tonight as Dr. LaSalle Leffall, Jr., physician, educator, writer and an inspiration to thousands, took to the podium at the Life Beyond Cancer Foundation's Distinguished Medical Speaker Series at US Oncology headquarters in The Woodlands.
       To say I was fortunate to attend is an understatement.  Rare are the opportunities we have to listen and watch as someone who has helped shaped and advance cancer prevention, treatment and care stands less then ten feet away. To unabashedly say I'm a fan? Yes, that is true.
       Dr. Lefall talked about one advance after another in cancer treatment, from surgical advances (smaller amounts of tissue removed with greater precision) to progress in targeted chemotherapy, and the incredible promise yet to be realized in immunotherapy and nanotechnology, where less will indeed be more.
       The full measure of Dr. Lefall's gift wasn't fully grasped until he recited these lines from Emily Dickenson:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight...

The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind-

         As De. Lefall deconstructed the lines as an oncologist, he reveals how talking to us -- as women experiencing cancer -- is indeed an art. As a patient I watched the wheels turning when my oncologist at MD Anderson weighed science and treatment options with his understanding of me as a person to gift me with his best possible advice. These were sacred moments. In these moments I understood why someone would aspire against all possible odds to become a doctor. I heard this again tonight from Dr. Lefall.
         How does an oncologist think about and acknowledge YOUR prognosis in a way that is true to medical practice yet takes into account your history, your experience, and your capacity and willingness to go the distance?  In reciting this passage from Emily Dickenson, Dr. Lefall spoke volumes about the marriage of  science, his experience with people with cancer, and the knowledge that experience inspires to ascertain the difference. All of these factors operate in the small exam rooms where we talk to oncologists about treatment.
        And what did Dr. Lefall emphasize to us as he spoke so eloquently?
        There is always hope.  There is always a Lance Armstrong story, the incredible story about a young man with a testicular cancer that had metastasized to his brain and his lungs, yet who is here today as testimony to never, ever, say never.
        There is always hope, hope for the best possible outcome, hope that your medical professionals (of which Dr. Lefall would humbly profess to represent) will do their best on your behalf each and every day.
        Because as a patient of Dr. Lefall's you would know this:  he would give you the truth, with wisdom, and experience and yes -- the grace -- to lead you to where your hope might be.

Thank you and good night,

More information about Dr. Lefall:
Washington Post Feature: De. Leffall, Jr., Surgical Pioneer
The History Makers
No Boundaries:  A Cancer Surgeon's Odyssey (NCBI)
No Boundaries: A Cancer Surgeon's Odyssey (Amazon)
Life Beyond Cancer Foundation 


Debbie said...

Awesome post Jody, wish I could have been there and listened and had the HOPE you speak of seep into my core. I have had some great doctors on this journey, still do, but the best ones for me marry that science and personal touch, like my Radiation Oncologist, he is a lovely man and mu surgeon, a wonderful woman. Thanks for sharing this message of Hope today and everyday:)
Love, Deb

Annemieke said...

Dear Jody,

I could almost see you sit there in the second row,listening to what appears to be an amazing man telling us what we so much want to hear; there is always HOPE!!Thank God for people like him and Lance ARmstrong who tell and show us why we fight so hard to turn this disease into a chronic one. Thank you again for learning us something new in your own beautiful way. Big hug, Annemieke

Jody said...

You both know how much I love passing on wonderful things I read about or have the opportunity to hear in person. This is especially true as far as helping to encourage and inspire others.

When Dr. Lloyd Everson, the chairman of US Oncology and one of its founders, said that Dr. Lefall was one of his heroes I knew I was in for something special. Then this morning, @lancearmstrong himself tweeted this:

@jodyms very cool. I love that man. Does he have great quotes or what?

What else can I say! Just thrilled to have had the chance to listen and share.

Hugs to you both,

Annemieke said...

so glad you did!! (as always)

Nancy's Point said...

Jody, What an amazing opportunity you had to listen to that moving talk, and in the second row no less! Doctors who skillfully blend science, genuine compassion, hope together with honesty and experience are truly gifts to their patients. Thanks for sharing. It's pretty great to hear from Lance Armstrong too!

Lisa Grey said...

Wow, that is so true. I am a 3 yr survivor myself, and I fight recurrence to the fullest extent that I am personally able to influence such things. But my sister has MS, and she does not have the hope that she can fight her illness. Perhaps a doctor makes a huge difference. But also, one's personal drive to rise above the illness.

Lisa Grey

Jody said...

Thanks for stopping by. As a three-time survivor you have a lot to share! And I agree - a physician is one aspect of the process. All the other contributing factors that impact survivorship will fill this blog for the rest of my life, I think:) Hope you visit again:)

Jody said...

Thanks for stopping by. As a three-time survivor you have a lot to share! And I agree - a physician is one aspect of the process. All the other contributing factors that impact survivorship will fill this blog for the rest of my life, I think:) Hope you visit again:)

Running the race said...

Jody, thanks for the reminder of what one person can do to influence change and making the world a better place. I am really happy that you got a second row seat!

Phoenix said...

Wow, Jody it must have been a privilege to listen to Dr. Lefall. I am a third year journalism student at Florida A &M University in Tallahassee, FL and I'm interviewing Dr. Lefall. I only had a chance to ask a few questions but I could tell he is inspirational. And just like Lance Armstrong tweeted, he has great quotes.