I look forward to Friday afternoons. Not because they signal the end of the work week, but because they’re my favorite part. Around noon, I leave the office and head to our Women’s Cancer Center, where I pull on a white jacket with my name stitched over the pocket, open the door to an exam room, and greet the first of the patients I’ll see that day.
The four to six hours I spend in the clinic each Friday reset my mind as to what’s important and put everything else—arguments over committee agendas, squabbles over office space—into perspective.
I take care of ovarian cancer patients. It is an extraordinary experience.
Life with ovarian cancer comes with many compromises, to put it mildly, and tremendous stress for women who have the disease, and those who love them. Most ovarian cancer patients live with the disease for years, some for more than a decade. Because the disease and its management become increasingly challenging over time, physician and patient become increasingly connected.
My patients are looking for help and earnest advice. I strive to be honest, compassionate, and hopeful when possible—to provide whatever they need, whether it’s being a skilled physician, handing someone a tissue, acting as a cheerleader, or just listening. Even if the news I have on a given day isn’t particularly good, I can still walk with a patient (or close behind) on her journey with cancer.
Many of my most inspirational patients have been those who knew their disease would not be eradicated. I am inspired by people who manage to put aside the fact that their disease will probably shorten their lives and focus on doing good for their families and communities. They are a testament to the power of hope and courage, the tenacity of the human spirit.
I still get cards from former patients—some of whom are alive and well 10 to 12 years after their diagnosis—and from patients’ spouses. One arrives each Christmas from Eddie, whose wife was diagnosed with uterine sarcoma shortly after giving birth to their son. When she died after a four-year struggle with the disease, Eddie took full-time responsibility for raising the boy. His most recent card included a photo of the now-15-year-old catching a black marlin, its dark scales gleaming in the sun.
I went into medicine to make a difference in people’s lives, and I knew that as director of a cancer center with a strong research team, I could make a far greater difference than by myself. But while we have made exponential leaps in the past decade in understanding and treating this complex set of diseases, there are days when it feels, quite simply, like not enough. As long as mothers die of cancer before having a chance to raise their children, it will continue to feel that way.
I invite you to take a moment to consider the people who remind you of what’s important. For me, it’s the patients with whom I spend Friday afternoons, who seem to give me more than I can give them and who drive my resolve—and that of my Fox Chase colleagues—to prevail over cancer.
Wishing you a healthy year,
Michael V. Seiden
President and Chief Executive Officer