From Lisa Fields
Colin and I are humbled that our dear friend Dr. Gia Sison will be our guest for our first anniversary of #HCLDR. She is one of the most respected physicians on Twitter due to her medical knowledge, content, engaging tweets and ability to develop so many authentic relationships with healthcare leaders all over the world. On February 28, 2013 was diagnosed with Breast Cancer Stage 2A. She has been very transparent sharing so many pieces of her journey with cancer and her treatment. She has chosen to share her story and is very interested in learning from our healthcare leader community. I know this will prove to be an inspiring evening for all of us as we listen, learn and grow together.
Please join us October 29th at 8:30pm Eastern Time (North America) for the weekly #HCLDR chat.
- T1: How do healthcare leaders support a colleague when the colleague is diagnosed with a chronic illness?
- T2: When your colleague is diagnosed with a chronic illness how do you decide which to be: A medical professional or a friend?
- T3: Open Mike. Gia, will be answering your questions.
- Closing Thoughts (CT): What’s one thing you’ve learned tonight that you can take to your area of influence tomorrow that can help a patient?
I am really grateful for the opportunity you and Colin have given to me for exploring the topic of the personal, human side of the Jekyll-Hyde phenomenon when the doctor becomes the patient and when the patient becomes the doctor in this coming’s HCLDR anniversary chat.
We divert to the “professional” topics to a more personal one and with this I am really interested in knowing your thoughts as to how you would delineate the line between being a doctor when you become a patient and vice versa coming off from all the topic about patient empowerment and engagement? When I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer Stage 2 last February 2013 I knew my colleagues were “sad” but opted to deviate from the “pat-on-the-shoulder or you-will-be-fine gesture” to the “let’s-get-it-on” and treat type of attitude, which helped me a lot in empowering the fighter side in me.
As a doctor, I chose to be a patient but just when I was in the verge of wanting to quit chemotherapy after my 3rd cycle the question came in, should I allow the doctor-brain in me to predominate or the patient-heart in me? Lots of thoughts but at the end of the day what mattered to me was I get well and that I have no regrets in the end.
I look forward to a fruitful discussion as always in this coming #HCLDR night and as early as now I am forever grateful for being my stronghold.
Gia’s What Cancer Did to Me blog post July 29, 2013:
Take pride in your scars – they are medals branded in flesh.
24/7 on the job, 24/7 on-call defined my life before cancer. Work was my life. I am a doctor and my passion is medicine. I am a patient… A cancer patient and my passion is to aim for complete recovery and wellness, most of all seek support. From physician to patient – the plunge is deeper than a bungee jump or the deepest scuba dive ever – humbling, painful, and most of all HUMAN.
My life took a more than 360-degree turn in five minutes that afternoon when my Dad happened to give me a call. Being left-handed when answering my mobile I used my right arm to support my left and lo and behold I immediately felt the lump that changed my life. The lump that made me wish I were not a doctor after 42 years of my life, since I knew based on its “feel” that it was not good. In a span of 14 days I underwent 2 surgeries being diagnosed as having Invasive Ductal Carcinoma or Breast Cancer Stage 2A. With all due respect, I literally know how Jesus felt during His personal Agony in the Garden – the wait, the despair and the need for physical support – all are beyond words.
I choose not to get technical and give you a lecture on what breast cancer is – its prognosis and outcome not wanting to bore you. Since I have two of my lymph nodes positive out of the 22 removed after my mastectomy I needed to undergo <drum roll please> CHEMOTHERAPY. 6 cycles of chemotherapy every 21 days. It is, will and forever be a test of faith, endurance and courage. As I stand before you as of this moment, I stand loud and proud that I have finished 5 cycles and bound to finally graduate on August 6. The excitement and happiness is more than how I felt way back when I was about to graduate in med school.
I know I promised not to bore you with the technicalities but I just need to describe to you a typical day in the life of a cancer patient on chemotherapy. A day before chemo we need to get patched with a special “salonpas-type” of medicine to reduce the symptoms of nausea. The patch needs to be patched 24 hours before a cycle. One cycle usually runs for 3 hours with a cocktail of meds depending on one’s cancer type. Mine was 3. After 5 days we get injected with a booster shot for our white blood cell (the one responsible for our immunity) to go up. The injection is done on day 5 and day 7 post chemo then we need to have blood drawn on day 8 to check if our counts are good then another blood test drawn at least 5 days before your next cycle and the same procedure again on the next and next and next. For someone with needle phobia each cycle can be hell! Needless to say only one arm can be utilized since whatever side the surgery was a “protected” side, in my case it was my left side so my right arm is considered USED and ABUSED.
In between cycles my best friends were my sofa, TV and wall clock when I would literally wait for 5 PM to hit the clock when my family would arrive. They all have work and I do not want to be much of a burden to them to make them stay and keep me company. These were indeed very lonely days.
Come to think of it the anger phase in the cycle of emotions in patients with cancer only dawned upon me mid cycle (specifically after my 3rd) of my chemo. I wanted to quit because I wanted to live life to the full again and that I was so bored, in despair and feelings of isolation started to dawn upon me. I resented busy working peers and wished they had cancer too – not good right? But this is how vulnerability is and so I realized. We all stumble and we all get our walls torn down but sheer will power overcame me and that I would not want to live a new life filled with regrets and “what-ifs”. It is supposed to be “new” so it should be on a clean slate. Quitting was not an option.
When I was about to hit rock bottom though that was when the Helping Hermanas concept came to the rescue through good friends, just in time for me to vent whatever needs I deemed appropriate for cancer patients to heal from both a physician and patient’s point of view. I would want to believe that God had to make me feel the range of emotions to make me reach out to you in behalf of my co-cancer survivors in their fight to thrive; that it is human and perfectly fine to reach out and ask for help, and that having a community is life in itself and from it comes our capacity for survival.
What goes around comes around and to Poveda, my very own alma mater, you have seen me through my formative years. These formative years consisted of solid core values of a compassionate community of family and true friends that walked with me in my journey to survivorship. Walked with me before I was wheeled in the operating room up until now that I celebrate life lived over again. Helping Hermanas moved forward and opened not the door of opportunity but the door to everyone’s heart – my heart. Cancer is not a sentence, it is just a word; it will remain close to my heart and I will forever fight this battle. Sometimes taking part in a great battle will be the thing that will help change the course of life, of history perhaps. But battles are never won with one soldier just like man was not created to be alone.
Just as the river never forgets that its goal is the sea so friendship never forgets that its only reason for existing is to love other people. Be there for other people and as simple as it may sound – help other people. The people who really help others are not trying to be useful but are simply leading a useful life. The rarely give advice but serve as an example – that is the noble advocacy of the Helping Hermanas project.
To my Hermanas, thank you. Thank you for the priceless gift of making cancer survivors like me realize that life is good; that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and that there is indeed a silver lining in every dark cloud.
I celebrate life with you, dear Hermanas. Life lived just the way it should be. I am not a prophet but one thing I know in my heart is certain and that is God, who sees all, knows that the example you give through the Helping Hermanas advocacy is helping Him to improve the world – heal the sick. And each day He will bestow more blessings upon it and most of all upon you.
Paulo Coelho’s Manuscript from Accra (my main reference in my talk)
Makati Medical Center’s Cancer Center (for my mantra of Cancer is not a sentence but just a word)
My all-time favorite feel-good melody Dianne Reeves’ Better Days —