Chief Patient Experience Officer: My pancreatic cancer diagnosis gave me a new perspective
Michael Frumovitz, M.D.
When I matched with MD Anderson for my fellowship in gynecologic oncology, my wife and I joked we would only be in Texas for four years. But we fell in love with Houston pretty quickly after getting here.
I also fell in love with MD Anderson. I think this is the greatest place in the world to work. And since becoming a patient, I know for certain it is a place of hope. The type of care and the kind of caring I have received here have helped me maintain a very positive, hopeful, optimistic outlook since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease that has a fairly poor prognosis.
My unexpected pancreatic cancer diagnosis
Over Christmas, I started having some back pain. I took Tylenol and Motrin to help ease the pain, but then I also began experiencing gastric pain. My immediate thought was that I gave myself an ulcer from all the medication.
I called a colleague, William Ross, M.D. in Gastroenterology, and told him what was going on. He said, “It does sound like an ulcer. Stop taking Motrin, eat smaller meals, and don’t lie down after eating. And if it continues for a few weeks, and we’ll do a CT scan.”
While things did get a little bit better over the next two weeks, I still didn’t feel right. I called and scheduled a CT scan. The scan revealed a large mass in my pancreas. An endoscopy and biopsy confirmed it was pancreatic cancer.
We still aren’t sure whether it is stage III, what we call locally advanced pancreatic cancer, or stage IV, metastatic disease. My treatment plan includes chemotherapy to hopefully shrink the tumor and to make sure nothing else pops up in another area. If the spread seems limited to my pancreas, our ultimate goal will be to do radiation therapy and surgery.
Today, I am four months into treatment, and the tumor has shrunk quite a bit. I feel good. And I attribute a lot of that feeling to being open with family, friends and colleagues about my diagnosis and treatment. I am fortunate to have so many people – here at MD Anderson, outside friends, family members – checking in on me, making sure I’m doing OK, sending me prayers, sending me positive vibes, sending me good juju and more. I have found that outward support to be very sustaining as I go through this.
A different perspective on patient care
I am still seeing patients. I have no eyebrows. I have no eyelashes. Anyone who is a patient at MD Anderson can give me one look and know I have cancer. There is no hiding it.
An unintended benefit of all this is the way it’s changed my relationship with my patients. I have more understanding of what they are going through now than I ever did before. And vice versa – now, they want to take care of me, too.
As I walk the halls of MD Anderson as a patient, it is very humbling. Few people within MD Anderson know who I am, so I feel like a secret shopper of sorts: the Chief Patient Experience Officer getting a first-hand look at what happens from start to finish.
The amount of empathy, sympathy and care I have received from people who don’t know me from the next patient is overwhelming. I have always thought we gave special care to our patients, a care that is unique to MD Anderson, a care that is better than anywhere else in the world. But I never really knew it until I was in this position.
MD Anderson is giving me the type of care and caring I hope we are giving our patients around the clock. And while we certainly have areas for improvement, my journey as an unknown cancer patient has truly confirmed what I always thought about the 24,000 people who work here and the type of care we provide for patients and their families.
Gratitude for MD Anderson
As oncologists, we deal with patients and families at the most difficult time in their lives. We should make sure that we treat them well and that they have a good experience. That has always intuitively made sense to me.
Now, as someone who has walked these halls as a patient, I understand what makes MD Anderson different. It would be a lie to say I am hopeful and optimistic 100% of the time. There are nights when I ask, “Why me?” But that is a small minority of the time.
I have learned firsthand that even for our patients with the worst prognosis, we always have something to offer them. I am fortunate to receive this diagnosis while working at the best cancer center in the world. I can’t imagine getting this kind of treatment anywhere else.
Gynecologic oncologist Michael Frumovitz, M.D., has helped thousands of patients throughout his career, which spans more than two decades at MD Anderson. A graduate of MD Anderson’s Gynecologic Oncology Fellowship Program, Frumovitz serves as the Chief Patient Experience Officer, leading efforts to support patient-centered, value-driven care and working with teams across the organization to continually improve MD Anderson patients’ and caregivers’ experience.