patient care

Relay for Life 2017: Who is your superhero?

The following post is an edited transcript of my speech given on 7/8/17 at the Relay for Life 2017, Clatsop County, OR. 

I am very excited by this year’s Relay for Life theme, “Who is your superhero?”

I am excited because I get to work with real-life superheroes every day.  And this morning I get to tell you about some of them.

If I had to pick just one group of people who are my superheroes, there is no question, it would be my patients.

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.  — Christopher Reeve

If there was ever a real-life example about the creation of a superhero, it was Christopher Reeve.  The actor who became famous for portraying “Superman”, later paralyzed in a random accident, rose above his injuries to become an advocate and real-life superhero to the world.

My patients inspire me every day with their own strength and perseverance.

In fact, I am in awe of them.  All of you out there today, who are either in treatment or have finished your treatments, whether last week or years ago, you are my heroes.  It is my privilege to guide you through your journey of treatment and survivorship.  You DID endure.  You DID overcome those obstacles.

But I can’t pick just one group of people that I consider superheroes.  The families and caregivers are my next group of heroes.

A hero is somebody who voluntarily walks into the unknown. — Tom Hanks

One of the first things I say to my patients at the initial consultation visit, is that you cannot do this alone; no one can do this alone.  Who is going to walk by your side through this?  Most family and caregivers have no experience with cancer.  It is all an unknown.  It is scary.  They are scared for their loved one.  They are worried they don’t know the right things to do.  But they learn, and they attend, and they administer, and they care.  They don’t walk away when the going gets tough.  And for that, they are heroes.

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My next shout-out to heroes is to the oncology nurses.

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man [or woman], but he [or she] is brave five minutes longer. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

The nurse is the one I unfailingly see taking the extra 5 minutes (or often much longer) — providing comfort, reassurance, teaching, and a listening ear.  In actuality, the nurse spends much longer time than the doctor, often hours as the treatments are given, whereas the doctor might get 15-30 minutes.  There would be no cancer care without oncology nurses.

In addition to the nurses, we have a whole team of heroes who make up our clinic staff.  Oncology pharmacists, social workers, medical assistants, customer service representatives, to name a few.

I like to say that oncology is a team sport.

The ordinary man [or woman] is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference. —Henry Miller (writer)

There are innumerable acts our staff perform to enable the care of our patients.  Just like in a team sport, the individual player is not always recognized, but every play is what leads up to the goal.  These unsung heroes of our clinic provide all the essential services that lead to successful treatment.

I also want to recognize the heroes of the hospice care team.

Heroes are like angels, they’re all around us… we just don’t always stop to notice … —Nanette L. Avery (writer)

The hospice nurses and care team are truly angels and heroes.

Shifting gears, my list would not be complete without recognizing my former and current mentors.

I wouldn’t be in my position today without them.

A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted. —Andrew Bernstein (philosopher)

I would especially like to recognize Dr. Steve Chandler, my colleague who has joined me for the past 9 months here to care for patients.  He has practiced oncology for over 40 years, yet faces each day truly undaunted and brings his wise and kind spirit to the clinic that has benefited us all.

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Another often unsung hero is the oncology researcher.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. —Joseph Campbell (writer)

It is these tireless brilliant people who work “behind the scenes” so to speak, whose scientific advances have led to our current breakthroughs in cancer treatment, most especially in the past 2 years including the immunotherapies.  Molecular analysis of tumor DNA is letting us strategize targeted therapies for many more cancers than in the past.

Personally, I also want to recognize my family.

Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it. —Maya Angelou

Without the support of my family, I couldn’t be an oncologist.  They have to share me with my job, and I know it’s not always easy.  They are my heroes for the sacrifices they have made, and understanding the sacrifices I have made.

So in closing,

in keeping with the superhero theme, if you will permit me to indulge my inner geek, and to quote from popular culture, the latest superhero movie, Wonder Woman,




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