By Kay Kerbyson, Special to the Tri-City Herald
Five years after originally being diagnosed with cancer, I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
Not least of which, my care team in Seattle, for getting me through my current chemotherapy, and the doctors who went before in New Mexico who allow me to say, "I'm a five-year survivor."
Oncologists are a very special breed of person. Five years ago, a thoracic surgeon, brought in to take out a large unexpected tumor during my surgery, wanted to close me up and let me go home to die. My oncologic surgeon made damn sure that didn't happen. After that, she was my hero, my confidant, my friend.
The survivor-oncologist relationship is a special one. Most see ours as having God-like powers, not even to be questioned or judged. After all, they do have our lives in their hands. Some of us are even privileged enough to be able to call our oncologist a friend.
So, knowing that I would need a local oncologist at some point, I've prodded people for the oncologic history and culture of the Tri-Cities, listened to their stories, to their thoughts on their doctors, and read the passionate discussions that have taken place in the letters and columns in the Herald.
We adore our oncologists, but would you want to be in their shoes? We hold them so high in our esteem, but at the end of the day, they're only human. Have you ever thought how hard it must be to be an oncologist?
A large number, if not most of their patients, will eventually die of their disease. Are these doctors sadists? Or have they just made peace with death as an everyday occurrence? I doubt it, judging by the reaction my former doctor used to give to any changes in my symptoms. Her whole attitude would change, a barrier would go up. She would turn from a smiley hugger into the clinician in an instant. I guessed it was a protection mechanism, because once you let a patient into your heart, what happens when you see their treatment failing?
Imagine walking into one exam room all smiles and cheery, and telling someone all is going well, then having to compose yourself and walk into the next one and tell them their cancer is back, or worse, that there may not be anything more you can do for them. How could a human being deal with that day on day without having a coping strategy?
I guess over time things balance out and they do "get used to it."They play out their professional role at work, then "go home, have a glass of wine and hug the dog and spouse," as my doctor used to say.
Oncologists are the heroes of the medical world. They make a huge sacrifice when they get close to their patients, and from what I've been hearing, Tri-City oncologists give their hearts and minds. Instead of standing back and remaining distant, they let down their guard and let us into their hearts. Which is why we so passionately advocate for them. And why their job is not a thankless task.
So be thankful to be alive, be thankful for all things good in life, and be thankful you're not an oncologist!
* Kay Kerbyson and her family live in West Richland. She is a local and national cancer advocate, an inspirational speaker and president/founder of Ovarian Cancer Together! Contact her at Kay@ovariancancertogether.org.