How Cancer Changed the Way One Doctor
Trialjectory had the privilege of speaking with Dr. David Jones* about how his experience as a cancer patient changed the way he practices medicine.
Trialjectory: Thank you for agreeing to share your story. Can we start by having you share a little bit about your background?
Dr. D: I am from a lower middle class family from a mill town in the North East. I attended public schools and was the first in my family to attend college. I have always enjoyed science and decided at a fairly young age to try and become a doctor. My late wife was instrumental in my finishing school. If it was not for her great help and support I probably would not be where I am today.
Trialjectory: Sounds like you’ve always been passionate about becoming a doctor. What have you learned from your patient interactions over the years?
Dr. D. I am a general practitioner, and I have enjoyed many years of taking care of my patients. I consider this one of the highest forms of service that a person can achieve in their career. In my practice I care for and treat many different kinds of human ailments both physical and mental. This requires a great deal of expertise and experience in order to help with your handling of the patient’s physical and mental welfare. As a physician goes through his or her practice, they gain experience and wisdom that enables them to better serve their patients.
“I was no longer a practitioner of medicine, but one who was relying upon a fellow physician to guide me through my treatment and hopefully recovery.”
I found that in the beginning of my career I had a lot of knowledge but little insight into the patient.
At that time I was focused on treating the disease and not necessarily the patient. As I gained experience, my ability to relate to my patients increased beyond my knowledge of medical facts and treatments. The greatest influencer of this knowledge was when I became a patient, a patient who was diagnosed with cancer.
Trialjectory: Receiving a cancer diagnosis, quickly changed your role from doctor to patient. What was that like and what did you take away from the experience?
D.D.: The tables turned quickly when I received my cancer diagnosis. I was no longer a practitioner of medicine , but one who was relying upon a fellow physician to guide me through my treatment and hopefully recovery. This experience has given me the greatest opportunity to improve my abilities as a physician. Being on the receiving end of medical assistance is so very much different that anything I had done before in my practice. It opened up for me a whole new outlook on how I would take care of my patients in the future. It also made me aware of the conversations that I had with patients. Listening to what they are saying was now extremely important.
I realized that I was listening, but not understanding what was truly occurring in the patient’s life. Now I have a deeper understanding of how important it is to truly listen and understand all the questions and concerns that my patients are expressing to their physician.
Trialjectory: How did your knowledge as a physician impact the way you communicated with your clinical team of caregivers?
Dr. D: It’s a unique and unusual experience to have a disease that you are very familiar with. It’s scary to know what is occurring in your body, placing
your care in the hands of another is very difficult and was a new learning experience for me. I found myself asking simple questions to my physician, exactly as my patients would ask me! I found this enlightening and also important to my future as a practitioner. I wanted my physician to be a good listener and to truly understand what my concerns were. She was excellent! She was not distracted by office duties while I was in the office. She was answering my questions and not becoming distracted by some of my more sophomoric inquiries. She took all my questions with a great deal of understanding and empathy. I learned a great deal about myself and a great deal of how I was going to handle my patients in the future, not only those patients with diseases such as cancer, but also mundane medical problems as well.
My role as patient was interesting , too say the least. I was also scary. Yet my colleagues were always supportive of my questions and concerns. Thanks to their level of compassion I learned a great lesson in my future as a physician.
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing so acquire a great deal of knowledge to be able to assist both [you and your doctor] in your future treatment and recovery.”
I would have preferred not getting diagnosed with cancer, but the bright side is I gained an understanding of medicine that I otherwise would never have been exposed to.
Trialjectory: Your journey is very unique. If you could give a cancer patient any advice, what would it be – and is coming from you as a doctor or patient?
Dr. D: To be honest, as a patient, I would tell another cancer patient to try not to become so involved with your disease that you lose track of your goal of beating this disease. I would also recommend that as a patient, tell your physician your understanding of the treatment, just do not accept something you don’t understand. Your physician wants you to be well and the more information he or she can give you helps the two of you in your recovery. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing so acquire a great deal of knowledge to be able to assist both of you in your future treatment and recovery.
From a physicians point of view, treat the patient first, he or she should be the center of your focus. The disease is important but the patient is always your main focus of concern. I always try to be positive, for I truly believe that the body follows the mind. Keep your patient informed and encouraged.
Trialjectory: Thinking back, were there any inspirational quotes or experiences that have stuck with you?
Dr. D: I don’t have any particular inspirational sayings that I live my life by. I believe that rather than sayings, I relied on my life experiences to guide my way through my practice of medicine . So many statements that I have heard from my patients are so profound and have influenced my care for these patients. I have found that the truest statements of life come from those that are close to the end of life. I try to live my life and practice being guided by these thoughts.