“Dear Cancer-Get Lost! I’m on Vacation”

August 28, 2012

Would it not be advantageous for people fighting what I call the “vile coward” to take a break from its ugly face? With nothing but the best intentions in mind, I hereby proclaim that all patients have permission to take a vacation from cancer, to schedule a time where cancer is not allowed in the door.

All month long patients have been asking me, “Have you been able to get away this summer, Doc?” and I have been reluctant to answer, not because I of what I did, but for what I did not do during my summer vacation, for not once did I think of cancer or of people living with cancer.

As soon as I stepped off the plane I pitched all thoughts related to work and like a falcon hovering high at dawn let wind and sun encompass me and whisk all worries off to the horizon. It was magnificent, rejuvenating and somewhat guilt-inducing. After all, aren’t truly devoted oncologists supposed to keep the plight of the good folks entrusted to their care close to mind?

The ability to remove stress from our mind, however, is considered to be healthy for the overtaxed. Even oncologists, or maybe especially oncologists, need an occasional break from their duties. No one wants doctors to succumb to the dreaded hazard known as “burnout,” so we take our vacations and forget all about the job, hopefully returning to our tasks refreshed. 

Hey, wait a minute-if doctors are expected to expel stress every now and then, why can’t patients? Would it not be advantageous for people fighting what I call the “vile coward” to take a break from its ugly face? With nothing but the best intentions in mind, I hereby proclaim that all patients have permission to take a vacation from cancer, to schedule a time where cancer is not allowed in the door.

There are many ways we can fulfill this promise. We could certainly take a real trip, and why not, even if it means adjusting the chemotherapy schedule-vacations are sacred, right? We could mischievously skip an office visit to go shopping, or set up a card game with old friends, or go to a movie that ordinarily we wouldn’t bother to see (large choice, there). The most important thing is that as long as we are alive, we don’t have to relinquish our spirit to this illness. Cancer may break down our bodies, but with the help of our most precious gifts-our friends and families-we can decide whether or not cancer is going to dominate our day. Just as I snuck out to bury my toes in the sand and forget about it all, my patients should be able to take a vacation from cancer, too. Please take a day off from me and do something fun, or at least get together and talk about something wonderful.  If you need help you can call me-nothing is more delightful to me than thinking up ways to humiliate this despicable disease, one laugh at a time.