I want to talk again about an amazing organization, the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project. I am privileged to work with this organization as a “patient educator.” No, we’re not the ones being educated. We are cancer survivors who are trained to teach healthcare professionals about our personal experiences with the medical community, what it was like to receive a cancer diagnosis, and the reality of living with cancer. Our goal is to help healthcare professionals see us as whole people, and not just as a cancer to be treated, so future cancer patients are treated more humanely by the healthcare community.
The other night we met with a group of medical students and residents at Overlook Medical Center. During the one-on-one sessions, the student’s responsibility is to interview the patient educator by asking her any and all questions about her experience. There is no subject too personal, because cancer affects all areas of our lives.
My session was truly memorable. My student asked thoughtful questions about my initial diagnosis and how I reacted, how my family dealt with my illness, and how cancer affected my sexuality and body image. We talked about spirituality and meditation, work issues and how my life has changed due to cancer. We spent a lot of time discussing the importance of compassion. I think she was amazed to know that I didn’t necessarily want more time from a doctor; I wanted more compassion in the time I got. True listening and connection don’t require hours; they require a healthcare professional who is present and in the moment with you.
At the end of the interview, she told me she almost didn’t make it to the session. She was happy she did, because listening to my story changed her entire perspective on dealing with patients. In the future, instead of looking into a file and seeing a diagnosis, she would look into the person’s eyes and see a whole person.
What I got out of our session was the deep satisfaction of being able to give back. During those early weeks after my mastectomy, I told my oncology social worker, that I needed to do something to show my gratitude for all of the support I got from her, my nurse navigator, nurses and doctors. Not only did I feel a tremendous need to give back, but I also felt the need to say yes to that need. Cancer was forcing me to be a doer, not simply a thinker. She told me I’d eventually find something which was a right fit for me. I’m so grateful I found the Pathways Women’s Teaching Project.
Have you found a way to give back? Please let me know all about it.
Survival > Existence,
Image courtesy of Julie