Incurable Optimism


courtesy of flickr user emblita (creative commons)

From the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists’ annual meeting on Women’s Cancer, San Francisco, CA—

Many doctors go into medicine because they get satisfaction from helping people get well. I’m covering my first big cancer meeting, and I’ve concluded that there is an additional well of optimism and strength in people who go into oncology that keeps them going when they know that many of their patients are likely to die, no matter what they do. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from oncologists, but I was encouraged to see that they were so upbeat. I’m an optimistic by nature myself, but I think it must be hard to stay positive when you are measuring success in terms of months of life.

Yet somehow the oncologists find the positive, and they aren’t giving up. Many of the major oral presentations were given by young physicians (about half of whom were women) and I can’t really put my finger on it, but the overall vibe I got was that if you are an oncologist, you are an incurable optimist. This morning, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists awarded Dr. Elizabeth Swisher the GCF/Margaret Greenfield/Carmel Cohen, MD “Excellence in Ovarian Cancer Research Prize.”  

When Dr. Swisher graciously accepted the award, she put up a picture of a relatively young woman named Wendy, smiling in sunglasses and cycling gear. Wendy had lost her battle with cancer, but Dr. Swisher dedicated the award to her, citing Wendy’s positive attitude and participation in cancer research, and mentioning how Wendy’s cancer treatments that she had allowed her more time with her sons that she might otherwise have had.

I don’t know any more details about this patient, but I think she is probably a reasonable snapshot of what helps fuel the incurable optimism of oncologists. Based on the research I’ve seen at this meeting, I believe that there will be more and better cures for cancer in the future. What can I say? I’m an optimist.

–Heidi Splete (on twitter @hsplete)

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Filed under IMNG, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oncology

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