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