Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, FASCO

Dec 27, 2011
Around this time each year I find myself thinking about patients usually—and especially those that have passed away. I wonder how their families are coping, how their children are, and whether each day has gotten easier. I think about how my patients died—and whether or not I did enough to ensure that they did not suffer.

It's an odd thing about oncology—we come into our patients' lives at such a critical time: when someone faces a cancer diagnosis, and the possibility that they might die of that disease. We get to know them beyond their cancer—we get to know who they are, what they do/did for a living, about their medical history, and about their family. We get to know that family, their friends, and share in each triumph (like the birth of a new grandchild, or graduation of a child) and each sorrow (death of a spouse or parent). Yet, when those patients die, our contact with these "others" goes away too. It's at the end of the year I realize this the most: that I've met some really great people through my patients, and I wonder how they are and discover in some small way, that I miss them as much as I do my own patients.

Some of my research I began at Brown focuses on the concept of the social network. No—not on social networks envisioned by technology, but on the relationships people form, within family, friends, church, and community. I've wondered how these relationships affect decisions, particularly at the end of life, and how we as doctors make assumptions often in the routine care of our patients. How often have you thought: "That man bringing in Mrs. X each week for paclitaxel must be her son—he seems so devoted"? Only to learn that that man is a friend from church with no relationship to her.

So at this, the close of 2011, I wonder how unique my experience is—this "sense of loss" that extends beyond the death of a patient, but also of the social networks you were lucky enough to be a part of for as long as that patient was under your care. I bet I'm not the only one.

So—for all of my patients, alive and dead, and those who provide(d) the support to help make life a little easier, I want you to know that you are in my thoughts as we close the year. As the song goes...

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne."


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Lisa Greaves

Dec, 28 2011 11:40 AM

I think you make great points about the interesting development and often ephemeral nature of our cultural networks. I was reflecting similarly, but from the other side of the fence, having just connected with a former colleague after the death of her father from lung cancer. I found myself suddenly reacquainted with people I care about deeply but rarely see. While I know that this will be fleeting, it is comforting to know that while some networks fall into disarray, true human and societal connections pass the test of time. I celebrated this truth with a gift to the Conquer Cancer Foundation in honor of a man I never met but to whom I feel genuinely connected through a social network.

Luis H. Camacho, MD

Jan, 01 2012 10:11 PM

Fully agree with you Don and commend you for taking this research initiative. I attend as many funerals as I can. After long or short journeys with patients and their families, it is one more way of demonstrating how much we care for their loved one. I wish you success with this initiative and will be following your progress with interest.

Beverly Moy, MD

Jan, 04 2012 2:02 PM

Don- Thank you for this beautiful post.  I fully echo your sentiments.  Many of us receive beautiful holiday cards and photos from the families of our patients who have passed away.  I love these updates--seeing children get bigger and finding out about new relationships and achievements.  But they are so bittersweet because they remind us of whom we have lost. 

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