Honoring lives lost, celebrating lives saved

On a recent morning, I dealt with the death of one of my patients.  As sometimes happens with this job, instead of having time to process this, I was immediately faced with a busy clinic.

After all of the patients were seen, and I had time to reflect, I realized that on the same day that cancer took the life of one of my patients, I had referred three other patients to our survivorship clinic.

And then I thought, “How fitting, because this is what we do.”

For every child that dies of cancer, we save at least three others. Obviously, the death of any patient hits us hard — and it should. But sometimes I think we forget to appropriately acknowledge the successes. Those three kids going to survivorship clinic had aggressive cancers, and each one certainly would have died without our care.  But with our help, each child is cancer free, thriving, and looking forward to a long and fulfilling life with the same hopes and dreams that any other young person may have.

Yet, these “cures” come with such little fanfare. Maybe it’s because it takes such a long time to get through treatment and sufficient follow-up before we can be certain that a patient won’t relapse. Or maybe it’s because there is no exact time that we can say a patient is cured or there’s that little bit of doubt or fear that something bad may still happen.

Whatever the reason, we probably don’t reflect enough on the good outcomes.

I think as the year comes to an end, we should remember to honor all of the patients we’ve lost this year. But we should also not forget to celebrate the lives that we’ve saved.  Each and every one of us should be proud of the collective good that we do.

Suman Malempati, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital