Cancer is Complicated: Experts Spell it Out
Oncology, the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, is among the most complicated medical specialties. Here, three Avera professionals with seven decades of combined cancer care experience share their perspectives what their work truly means.
Perspectives from Houman Nourkeyhani, MD, Avera Medical Group medical oncologist and hematologist
You’re the Team Owner
“I feel the most important thing patients and families should know is that an oncology team is one of the largest in health care, with many diverse professionals who all work for one goal: helping the patient, be it with chemotherapy or other medication with medical oncology, with radiation treatment in radiation oncology, with surgery or some combination of them all.
“Beyond the physicians and nurses, there are many other professionals – social workers, aides and technicians, there are lots of “cooks” in our approach.
“Sometimes the medical oncologist is seen as the ‘quarterback’ of the team. But the coach – or team owner – is the patient. We make sure they understand what we can do and that they are involved in the process.”
Personalizing Your Care
“My No. 1 job is to explain why the patient is seeing me and what they can expect. In a majority of cases, it’s earth-shattering information to receive – a cancer diagnosis. But when I meet with the patient and family, before they leave they will know exactly what they face, what we can do, why we should do it. We’re not just treating cancer – the spiritual, mental and social aspects of the situation are all parts of the team’s approach.”
Dramatically Better Care
“In my work in rural areas, too many times people came to me when they were told they needed to see an oncologist and were thinking their diagnosis meant their demise. No. We do cure a lot of cancers. And it’s not just chemotherapy. The ‘Hollywood’ depiction of cancer, with hair loss, vomiting and weakness – that’s not always the case.
When the patient is the centerpiece of the approaches and decisions, and his or her decisions are foremost in our thinking, the approach to treatment can vary. We can often offer options they can tolerate, with fewer side effects and on a timeline that works best for them. No two cancers – even in the same organ – are the same. Your treatment may differ from that other people receive. It won’t be exactly like your uncle’s or your parents’ – it’ll be yours.”
Perspectives of care from Lynette Scholten, RN, Avera oncology nurse
A Cancer Diagnosis is Overwhelming
“When we first see a new patient, we explain that they will get a lot of information, and it’ll feel overwhelming. It’s a lot to take in – but we also spell out that they are not alone. We have heard many questions and there are no silly questions, and they can call us 24/7 with any questions. We’ll get them answered. If you have to call twice on the same question? That’s fine – it’ll take a little time. And that is OK.”
Being an Oncology Nurse
“When I explain I work in oncology, people assume it’s a sad career – but it’s not. Patients are like family, and they teach me so much about my own life, and the important things in living – life is valuable! The interactions we have are so rewarding, not just for patients, but for our team. We have a lot to offer patients and they offer a lot of things to us, sharing their journeys. It’s a relationship like no other. Being there for them is a blessing, and I would not want to work in any other area.”
Perspectives of cancer from Melanie Miller, RN, Avera oncology nursing supervisor
Cancer Care Comes With Many Supporters
“Our physicians and providers are great, and they do everything they can to spell out the basics during that first meeting with a new patient. Yet from that point forward, they are not going to be alone or left to wonder. We guide them – whether it’s me, Lynette, another nurse, a social worker, a pharmacist – each step is guided, and we’ll welcome you and help you with everything from diagnosis and treatment to the social and mental aspects that also affect recovery and treatment. In-person, on the phone and online – no matter what, we’ll be there to help you understand and to make the best decisions using the facts.”
Cancer Care Unique to You
“We remind all patients that they are individuals and unique – so too is their cancer. While we’re working to answer their questions, we do hope they’ll turn to us with questions. The Internet can be a bad place to get cancer facts – it can lead to worries and anxiety. We understand curiosity is natural, but we do our best to help people see that there are no generalities in oncology – it doesn’t work that way. We have so much to offer in terms of clinical trials, targeted therapies and other ways to help that we really want you to know – we will get you answers to any question, no matter what.”