Dominique LeBlanc, MD,
There is no such thing as a typical day for a breast surgical oncologist. Every day is different because each patient is unique—with her own disease, beliefs, fears, and hopes. Each patient has her own story.
It’s easy for us to become overwhelmed by the complexities of caring for our patients. Working every day with women who have cancer can be a challenge, but also a non-negligible privilege. Since I began my breast surgical oncology fellowship, many of my friends and relatives have questioned my abilities to handle the various associated roles and responsibilities. Many of them told me that they would never have the strength and would be too affected to pursue this type of medical practice. It is true that surgical oncology is not an easy profession. It is a tremendously demanding job that often makes one feel as though they are on an emotional roller coaster; but on the other hand, it is a job that is life-changing and abundantly rewarding.
How do we cope with the pressures we face daily at work? How do we help our patients through this journey they have been thrown into unwillingly? Throughout residency and thus far in fellowship, I’ve had opportunities to learn how to manage so many different roles from incredible staff members and my patients.
Lessons From My Patients
Courage. Determination. Perseverance.
Courage is defined as the choice and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, or uncertainty. Courage sits in your clinic every day. It resides in the lovely lady you are faced with telling that she will have to receive chemotherapy and thus lose all of her hair. It lives in the young mother, who, while you are explaining to her the uncertainties of her future, smiles back and tells you she will do everything possible to achieve cure. Or in this sweet lady with hair white as snow who is learning that she will have to be put to sleep and have her left breast removed. Our patients are great examples of courage, determination, and perseverance. They are strong fighters, ready to give all they have in the battle against their cancer. Yes, it is sometimes really hard to see your patients suffering or not doing well, but we also use treatments that help lead to cure in many patients.
Lessons From My Staff
During residency, I had the opportunity to pursue elective rotations at some of the best cancer centers in Canada. I met one of the most inspiring surgeons I have encountered thus far at one of these centers. On top of all of the medical knowledge he provided, he taught me some of the most powerful life lessons so far in my career.
Oncology is always evolving, with new concepts and new data frequently emerging. For this reason, patient care has to be adaptable to the new information. Our job necessitates a constant learning process, where we must incorporate the most recent studies and developments into the day-to-day care we provide. It requires passion and the ability to think outside the box, always in the best interest of our patients.
I will never forget the discussion we had on day 1 in the ward after leaving the room of a patient with a peritoneal carcinomatosis. “Give them hope.’’ Despite the stress and demands of our job, I have learned an important key to success: “Always put your heart to the patients you are taking care of.” And always instill hope in them. Facing cancer brings misunderstandings and can lead patients to feel helpless. Remind them that there are better days coming. If we lose hope, they lose hope, and then we all lose the battle.