"I'm an Oncologist"

"I'm an Oncologist"

Guest Commentary

Nov 08, 2010

By Jamie Von Roenn, MD.  When I am at the check-out line in the grocery store, and someone asks me what I do for a living, it's always a bit of a challenge to listen to their response when I say, "I’m an oncologist." The response is usually some version of one of three responses: 1) Oh, that must be so hard 2) My mother had cancer or 3) Are they closer to a cure? Interestingly, I’m never asked about the things we oncologists talk about: What is the "best" treatment? How do I break bad news to someone who isn’t ready to hear it? Or we talk about being too busy, unrealistic expectations of patients and families, declining reimbursement, lack of research dollars, accrual to clinical trials . . .

My answers to the "grocery store" questions aren’t overly scientific ones; they are human ones: 1) My work is challenging, but meaningful to me, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else 2) I’m so sorry to hear it and 3) We cure some kinds of cancers, and not others. Just like with patients, I keep it simple, direct, and personal, rather than complex, oblique, or detailed. I leave the casual encounter feeling like it’s a nice connection.

I find myself wondering if that isn’t what we as an organized Society need to do as well; keep it simple, direct, and personal. Cancer still scares so many people, and there are going to be more people with cancer in the coming years simply because so many people are living longer. ASCO needs to have a collective voice that’s not defensive nor strident. Simple, direct, personal. I take care of patients that way; I think ASCO should talk that way, too.

Jamie H. Von Roenn, MD, FASCO, is Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, and Medical Director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Home Hospice Program. Her professional interests include breast cancer and palliative care. She has served on the ASCO Board of Directors, and is a current member of ASCO's MCMC Working Group, Breast Cancer Consensus Panel, and Professional Development Committee.


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Thomas Reid, MD, PhD

Nov, 10 2010 2:04 PM

 Dr Von Roenn is spot on the mark here.  I agree with her approach.

Ashley Love Sumrall, MD, FACP

Jan, 13 2011 12:55 PM

Very well-stated

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