By Daniel Gomez, MD, Department of Radiation Oncology, Division of Radiation Oncology, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Despite the numerous warnings in the week before the storm, I don’t think that many of us grasped how impactful Hurricane Harvey would be. For me, this profound event surprisingly had many parallels with my experience as an oncologist; specifically the stages that I often observe in patients with newly-diagnosed cancer. The 2-3 days during Harvey were filled with fear and despair, much of which was due to the prospect of an unknown future. There was a period of recognition as families coped with adjustment to a major development in their life. But then, there was hope. There was resilience. There was support, both emotionally and through selfless acts of generosity. As days and weeks passed, there was recovery. There were new beginnings and new perspectives. And going forward, there will be renewal. We will come through stronger and more united, with a novel appreciation of life and of our loved ones.
Several patients of mine were touched by Harvey and they shared these sentiments with me. It seemed to many as if they had been struck by dual diagnoses, first that of cancer and then substantial loss. However, I never ceased to be amazed by how they were able to manage these two life-changing circumstances. Some patients commented on how the coping lessons learned from their malignancy had helped them to manage the effects of a natural disaster. For example, two weeks after the hurricane I learned that one of my patients had lost their house. While my immediate impulse was to convey deep sympathy for this misfortune, the patient communicated this news to me in the context of how lucky we all are to have those that care for us and how belongings mean little when compared with the preciousness of our lives. Such insight has inspired me to try to look beyond short-term challenges in the context of the highest priorities: family, friends and a broader purpose.
I decided to become a physician when I was in high school after watching outstanding doctors positively affect the lives of people in their communities. Hurricane Harvey reinforced in me that while I should continue to strive for this goal, the physician-patient relationship is symbiotic. I am exhilarated by the many new treatments that patients with lung cancer will have available in the next 5-10 years, such as immunotherapy, innovative targeted agents and novel radiation techniques. But many of these developments and improvements are guided by the efforts of patients: through their advocacy, collaboration, strength and insight. Our patients and our city did not need a hurricane to demonstrate these qualities, but Harvey made them even more pronounced, visible and universal. As a city and as a united community, we should be proud.
Join Dr. Gomez and the Houston lung cancer community for Lung Love Walk Houston on Saturday, November 4th at 8:30AM to walk together in our fight against lung cancer. Learn more!