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I Live to Conquer Cancer: Dr. Don S. Dizon

Dec 05, 2019

As part of ASCO’s “I Live to Conquer CancerTM” Campaign to raise awareness of the critical importance of federally funded cancer research, members of the oncology community are invited to answer the question “Why do you live to conquer cancer?” Written stories and videos may be shared on ASCO.org and ASCO ConnectionTell us your story today.

When Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, FASCO, entered the field of oncology 20 years ago, he knew that new cancer treatments would soon offer patients new hope—for longer lives, fewer side effects, and better quality of life. What he didn’t anticipate was how much his profession would change as a result.

“I went into oncology to offer better treatments to patients, and I’ve been able to do that,” he said. “But looking back over 20 years, I see my work in a different light. My job today is to care for patients as people—to understand all of their needs and guide them through a journey that might last many years.”

As director of women’s cancers at Lifespan Cancer Institute in Rhode Island, Dr. Dizon puts that thinking into practice daily. He gets to know each patient intimately, involving her in decision-making at every step, and making sure she has support to navigate all the challenges she’ll face as a patient and survivor—from the side effects of treatment to the financial burdens that might outlast her care.

Dr. Dizon’s passion for whole-patient care, and why he lives to conquer cancer, isn’t limited to direct patient care. As an active blogger and an early champion of social media in medicine, Dr. Dizon aims to inspire colleagues with new ideas for serving patients in a complex, fast-changing health care landscape. He’s also on a personal journey to improve the way oncologists speak by getting rid of shorthand phrases like, "my patient with cancer," or "a patient fails treatment." He says that these phrases unintentionally dehumanize and place blame on patients. Dr. Dizon recalls a conversation early in his career when he told a patient, "You failed treatment, and we’ll move to something else." 

“She had an immediate reaction,” he said. “Her eyes swelled up with tears and she said, ‘I'm sorry I failed.’ That reaction has stuck with me and has driven my quest to change the way we speak in oncology.”

Dr. Dizon says he thinks of cancer as a social disease. “It's part of what makes this profession so special,” he says. “We not only meet people at their most vulnerable—we meet everyone who is important to them…sharing in their joys and celebrations and sorrows. Most days I still consider how lucky I am to be doing such important work.”

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