As many of you may recall, I recently left a position I loved to join a large cancer institute in our city. I have enjoyed immersing myself in this new role. The past two weeks has been filled with working with oncology nurse practitioners in various offices, rounding in the hospitals, and attending software classes for a new system being implemented institute-wide over the next six months. It has been exciting, innovative, and fast-paced -- to say the least.
During this transition, I also attended the 7th annual oncology symposium for this institute. I was expecting more research, new findings, and a hectic environment. But instead, what I witnessed was a collective sigh and "hug" for all those who work here.
The day-long symposium started off with "Schwartz Rounds," which are modeled after the Schwartz Center Rounds. These rounds are unique, multi-disciplinary sessions in which cancer centers and hospital staff explore the emotional side of caregiving in oncology. These rounds were the vision of Ken Schwartz, a Boston healthcare attorney who died of lung cancer at age 40. As a patient, he discovered that what mattered most were the simple acts of kindness from his caregivers, which he said made "the unbearable, bearable."
I learned the importance and meaning of sharing, reflecting, feeling, and supporting one another. A panel of oncology doctors, nurse practitioners, researchers, nurses, and support staff shared their experiences in caring for oncology patients. I realized that no matter how hard or stoic we are on behalf of our patients, it still hurts each of us (in different ways) when our patients lose the battle to cancer.
However, we all agreed that we keep doing what we do because of a collective hope to see more patients survive. And this hope grows year-by-year as more people continue to survive cancer. This is what keeps us going; the belief that we're helping that progress.
The symposium also showcased a tumor board presentation that was completely amazing. I have never attended a tumor board (yes, I am ashamed to admit that since I've been in oncology for over five years now), so it was an absolute treat for me -- especially because it has been on my perpetual "to do" list. The collaboration at this presentation was impressive: No egos, no fear, just honest, earnest teamwork on behalf of the patient.
There were also presentations about the importance of clinical trials, and how they can be an altruistic way of providing the best and latest therapy to those with malignancies.
I attended break-out sessions about new medications, centering on new roles for old drugs (such as how research is tracking the possibility of bisphosphonates and metformin decreasing the risk for breast cancer in some people), as well as genetics, imaging, and findings. These break-out sessions were geared toward advance-practice providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and were presented by working physicians from the institution. We were reminded about the importance of having those difficult conversations with patients and their family members when the time comes to talk about DNR status, living wills, power of attorney, health care surrogates, and/or hospice care.
We were also reminded how DCIS (breast cancer) can take up to 30 years to present itself! It's a multi-year process!
This symposium was invigorating, and great way to start the next chapter of my role in oncology with this new institution.
I encourage everyone to participate in their institute's oncology and/or hematology symposiums, or to go to one near your city! One resource is the Oncology Nursing Society, which lists events on their Website. You will leave reaffirmed in your calling!