A Letter to My Patients: Promises Part 1

A Letter to My Patients: Promises Part 1 | Erin Stevens, MD

This is Part 1 of an excerpt of a speech I gave at the Stony Brook University Hospital’s Gynecologic Oncology Candlelight Ceremony in September 2012.

Sure, I’m only a fellow.  But what that means to me is that I am part of the future of the field of gynecologic oncology.  I was one of the 43 people that was chosen my year to be a gyn onc fellow.  I have hopes and dreams for what my career will be like.  But mostly, what I have now are some promises.

These are the promises from someone in the next generation of gynecologic oncologists.  They are promises that I have made to myself about the type of physician I am and the type of oncologist I want to become.

We forget, all too often as physicians, that the language we speak is full of big words.  We speak of hysterectomy, oopherectomy and surgical debulkings.  This may be followed by radiation and chemotherapy, with words like paclitaxel and liposomal doxorubicin, and now newer drugs like bevicuzimab.  We read articles about clinical trials with acronyms like ICON and ACTION and we talk to our patients about GOG protocols.  We look at disease free survival versus overall survival and numbers, statistics and percentages.  I promise to remember that the language of a doctor is just as foreign to patients as French and Japanese is to me.  I promise to use simple words and analogies, but never talk down to my patients.  I promise to remember that there’s never a stupid question.  To realize that most people aren’t sure if it’s chemotherapy or radiation that makes you lose your hair.

I promise to remember that the medications we prescribe and the treatments and tests we recommend are sometimes tedious, often misunderstood, and occasionally downright unpleasant.  The side effects are so numerous that often physicians can’t quote them all.  What the patients know is the discomfort of starting that IV every time, and sometimes more than once.  They know the burning sensation as certain medications run through their body.  The patients know their hair loss, the nausea, vomiting, and the overwhelming fatigue.  I promise to remember that I don’t know what it’s like to experience this, and I promise to listen to my patients as individuals when they experience these side effects.

Though I have now sat side by side with many patients, looking them in the eye, to tell them that yes, they have cancer, I promise to always remember how scary that word is when heard for the first time. And I’ll remember that you won’t hear what I say after I say the word cancer.  And that means that I may have to explain everything all over again.  And again.  And again.  Each time, you’ll take a little more in.  Each time, I’ll get a little better at explaining it.

To be continued…