The end of another year usually inspires us to interesting if not profound reflections, but in my case I am just trying to remember any rainbows of wisdom that appeared to me during 2011. Those who care for cancer patients cannot help but learn new insights about life and death, and since aphorisms are valuable only if spread, why not share a few? Perhaps these little pieces of advice may inspire someone on the cusp of an epiphany, but for one last hint. Here are some maxims that have left their mark on me the past year. Feel free to add your own, and may 2012 be a healthier year for us all.
Perfection is impossible, but inaction is impermissible. Even when faced with insurmountable problems, at least try to be of help.
A cancer patient’s vacation is sacred—don’t mess with it. The whole point of treating cancer is to help patients get back to their normal lives, right? So don’t interfere with happy plans.
Always show pain the highest degree of disdain—and respect. Never give up the fight to relieve someone’s pain and never assume your most recent pain control plan is adequate.
Never walk away from a patient with a problem. Even if comforting words are all that are left, they will be appreciated—and remembered.
Avoid the truth at your patient’s own expense. When things are going badly, let honesty lead the discussion.
The more barriers you put between you and your patients, the more they will suffer. Ever have any difficulty reaching your doctor in a time of distress? Pretty miserable, isn’t it?
No matter how lousy a day you’re having, you are not taking cancer home with you tonight. Your patients never get to leave their problems at the office.
Soothsayers are a myth, so don’t try to act like one. Do you really think you know exactly how long your patients have left to live? Then why risk upsetting them with such pronouncements?
People who accompany patients to your office are royalty. Caregivers are wonderful people, who deserve the highest regard from doctors.
The greatest compliment oncologists can ever receive is when patients forget about them. “Hey, who was your oncologist, anyway?” “You know, it’s been so long ago I can’t remember.”