Cancer insights: Cancer patients are superhuman
June 5, 2017 | by Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D.
Please allow me to offer four examples for your consideration, from my personal insight.
CANCER PATIENTS ARE BRAVE: In the face of immense uncertainty.
Clearly it is difficult to be diagnosed with cancer and to face the inherent uncertainty that comes with it. Adding to these challenging times is the anxiety of numerous blood tests and scans, all of which are a part of living with cancer. I can only imagine the difficult nights awaiting results of newly-ordered brain scans and wondering if or when cancer will return.
I have learned from my patients that the uncertainty of a cancer journey is a heavy psychological weight. Despite the fear and worry, however, my superhuman cancer patients remain brave despite the unknowns in their health and future.
When I contemplate the worries in my personal life, I reflect upon my cancer patients and find both direction and inspiration.
CANCER PATIENTS ARE RELIABLE: By still caring for their families.
My specialty is treating women whose breast cancer has spread to their brain, and it never ceases to amaze me that my patients continue to focus on their children (and often aging parents) while battling cancer themselves.
Many women have asked me if they will live long enough to see their children go to college. It’s obvious they put their children above themselves and that they hope that a parent’s death from cancer will be easier to cope with in college than in high school. My superhuman patients don't fear death, but the toll that their death will take on their young children.
My cancer patients set a profound example of dependability, which I try to embrace as a father of three sons (10, 11 and 14 years old).
CANCER PATIENTS ARE VULNERABLE: In trusting surgeons to remove cancer inside them.
When I pause to think about the trust my patients have in me, it inspires an overwhelming sense of responsibility that is difficult to communicate. My patients trust me (and others) to physically enter and surgically remove cancers inside their bodies with the hope that we will leave them as whole as possible.
The real superhumans are not the surgeons, but the cancer patients who trust in our profession and surrender to the most intimate of care, cancer surgery. Their ability to be completely vulnerable and willingly submit to the judgment and skill of their surgeons is a testament to their superhuman ability.
CANCER PATIENTS ARE ALTRUISTIC: In hope of finding tomorrow's cures.
My patients have every imaginable right to think only of themselves, and it is a right I sometimes encourage at the height of their cancer battle. Yet their natural inclination is to take steps toward what is good for humanity as a whole, with many willing to participate in clinical trials of medicines that are not guaranteed to be therapeutic.
I know they do this in part for themselves and in part to gain a greater purpose in their cancer diagnosis. They remain open to their cancer tissue being used in our laboratories (after confirmation of diagnosis) to explore medicines that have little chance of becoming available to them in their lifetime.
Putting others before yourself when the natural response should be self-preservation is truly superhuman.
For the past eight weeks Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Surgery, has been a guest panelist on the Fox competition series SuperHuman, which tests the abilities of ordinary people to use their extraordinary skills to win a $50,000 grand prize. Each episode features five contestants who have a “superhuman” quality in fields such as memory, hearing, taste, touch, smell and sight. They are challenged to push their abilities to the limit. The show began as a special last summer and this year was made into an eight-episode series. The season finale airs Monday, July 31 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
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