Learning Something New

Learning Something New

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, FASCO

Dec 06, 2011
Every once in a while I get an opportunity to speak at a meeting in which oncologists are not the primary audience. Of course, it is always to speak on either gynecologic- or breast-cancer-specific issues, but I always welcome the opportunity to educate a non-oncology audience about what we can do and how we approach our patients. Occasionally, I even get to learn about something completely outside of my expertise.

Such is the case with a recent meeting in Paris. I accepted an invitation to speak about ovarian cancer at the Controversies in Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Infertility (COGI) meeting. It was designed as a track presentation and I was to be in Paris for three days. Normally, I would take the opportunity to wander the Marais and Champs Elysees, shopping, and enjoying wonderful French bistros.

However, a special session on the first day intrigued me. It was a pre-Congress workshop highlighting the French-Brazilian collaboration on treatment of transsexuals. I eyed it curiously because one of three case reports of ovarian cancer in a female-to-male transgender patient while on testosterone supplementation came from our group in Providence.

Although the speakers addressed the audience in Portuguese and French for much of the session, it was fascinating to hear of the psychologic evaluation required, surgical gender reassignment, and social issues covered. Guidance on selection of endocrine therapies and the role of surgery were discussed in detail and in a strange way, these discussions mirrored some of the discussions we have in oncology--risks of each treatment, complications, the complexity of decision-making, and the sense of life being forever altered. It made me cognizant of the fact that the issues faced by cancer survivors is mirrored in many different ways by others facing conditions or circumstances. 

While I as an oncologist did not learn anything more about treatment of cancers, as a doctor and as a human being I learned about the complexity of sexual identity, the complicated path to self-realization they face, and a world not necessarily ready to accept them. As we consider disparities in medicine, and in oncology, we should not forget segments of our population whose voices have yet to be heard.


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