Part 1 – A day in the life of an Oncologist…
Onkos – is a Greek word, meaning cancer and logy means study; the person who studies Cancer is known as an Oncologist. The study and treatment of cancer are, nowadays, identified by its subdivisions- depending upon the person, who is delivering the specialized care to the person. The main divisions of Oncology are Surgical, Radiation and Medical Oncology. All the three specialists learn and understand the basics, pathology and pathways of spread of various cancers; however there is further specialization amongst surgeons depending upon the anatomy of the body where the cancer is arising from. The Radiation and Medical oncologist are trained to treat the cancers either with X- Rays/ Radiotherapy or chemotherapy (drugs/ medicines) targeting the cancer.
A day in the life of an Oncologist is defined by- personal / family space, patient space, office tasks, study time, research/mentoring and teaching; with each task demanding attention albeit with a different degree of priority.
However of all the tasks, spaces and times; patient space fills up the largest proportion of the day for any doctor especially an Oncologist. The experience of attending patients can vary from being with a child who is just learning to talk and walk; to young ones who are about 4 -10 years and do not understand why they have to come to hospital, miss the school, miss their friends and spend long time in the hospital; to teenagers who come with a hyperactive mind, an unbridled enthusiasm, hopes of world they are about to conquer, an emotionally charged thought process and a sudden directional deviation in their path by having to face cancer; to young adults starting careers or families; older adults in middle life; adults about to retire or adults who are beyond 75-80 years of age and need assistance in their activities of daily living.
The children and young adults come along with their parents, grand – parents, uncles, aunts, friends and friends of the extended family; each with his/her own interpretation of the disease process, treatment effects, outcomes and demands on the time of the doctor and the care givers!
Each encounter with the different stake holder needs to be addressed on its own merit. The expectations of the family, friends; aspiration of children; hopes of an unseen future with the limitations imposed upon the child need to be clearly assessed and discussed during the first few consults. The fear of the cancer, stigma of losing a function or part of the body, anxiety of the side – effects, financial burden has to be fully understood by the Oncologist and gently replaced by hope, nurturance and joy of being cancer free and ability to live life as a fully empowered adult.
The spectrum of feelings emotions experienced by an Oncologist can vary from anguish, empathy, compassion, mourning to happiness and gratitude depending upon the outcome of each of their patients while being on this continuous and fulfilling journey of discovery to alleviate human suffering.