M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: Fall 2008
Duration: 0 / 03:36
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This is Deb speaking again. As one might imagine, longevity in cancer care has given me a kind of notoriety and people often call me for advice and medical referrals. This is work I'm very happy to do and divide my narrative advice into 3 parts.
The first concerns the internet - stay off of it. On ovarian cancer all the news is bad. As for protocols and procedures, the ill or at least the first time ill, are not in a position to make judgments about the appropriateness of one course of treatment over another.
The second involves the kind of care one should seek. Go to a research hospital, a hospital affiliated with the teaching and training of medical and surgical oncologists. Amazing advances have occurred over the last 40 years in cancer care and they invariably start in this university setting. Other hospitals are doubtless doing their best, but generally speaking community and colleges cannot be as aggressive as physicians working in the university setting. This is another way of saying get the best care that you can. All physicians want their patients to get well but some of them are better at medicine than others, and some of them are better equipped for it.
Finally, try to enjoy the life you have before you. A friend, Fran Lance, told me after 5 years in chemotherapy a colostomy, more surgeries, and worse, enjoy your chemotherapy. She had run through all the available chemotherapy options and had even tried some phase one clinical trials. Despite all of this, it was just about over. In Fran's universe, chemotherapy was a good thing and one should enjoy it accordingly. I am trying.
I have also had the extraordinary good fortune to have Dr. Margaret Sun as my oncologist in Santa Barbara. To say I loved Dr. Sun misses the point. She is inscribed in my heart. Even when I don't see her, I see her in my imagination. She has taken exquisite care of me since I was diagnosed, and has worked with the oncologist at M. D. Anderson to the benefit of both I imagine. She engages cancer both as a disease and a molecular puzzle. Blazingly smart, she's a bit younger than I am and has a family that includes a husband and four beautiful children.
I am a grateful patient and I have offered my academic services to her kids. They generally come with lunch, but one memorable afternoon I gave an hour and a half lecture on the origins of the Palestinian Israeli problem to Dr. Sun's daughter, Jenny, who is a freshman in college. How did she sit through it? I don't know, but I had no choice but to listen to myself speak. I was hooked up and receiving a new drug, Avastin, through infusion.
When I realized that cancer curing chemotherapy would be part of my life until I died, I changed my attitude toward it. I now schedule my time with Dr. Sun in the early afternoon and arrive with lunch for her, her assistant, and her daughter, if she happens to be working in the office on the day of her appointment. We have a quick meal together, I eat soup, and then Dr. Sun readies me for chemotherapy. It involves accessing the portacath in my chest, drawing blood, and waiting while the blood is evaluated. If all the variables are satisfactory, the infusion begins. If I am very lucky, Jenny will come in and tell me about her life and times late in the afternoon. Dr. Sun may sit with me and we can discuss the world, the crisis in American healthcare, and the issues relating to parenting and being married. She's a woman and now a friend that I would not have met apart from ovarian cancer, and I am better for having her in my life.
One Christmas I thanked her for making my cancer journey such a pleasure, and she knew what I meant. It has not been a pleasure, but it has been easier for me because she has cared for me and brought me into the orbit of her world.
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Videographer/Editor/Producer: Deborah E. Thomas
© 2008 The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
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