Celebrating the End of Chemotherapy Can Isolate Those Not So Lucky

John L. Marshall, MD


January 31, 2018

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

Celebrating a Successful Symposium

This is John Marshall, director of the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

It's December, holiday time here, and we have just finished our annual Ruesch Center Symposium, "Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer." It was a fabulous meeting with over 500 registered participants—a mixture of scientists, clinicians, and patients.

We focused first on innovation, new things coming forward in the space of immunotherapy and precision medicine, as well as emerging local surgical and radiation techniques. It was a great review of the incredible technology that's being applied to GI cancers.

We were delighted to have our first-ever luminaries event on Friday evening, where we invited five really incredible people who have made lifetime contributions in the space of GI cancer research, advocacy, and education. We were very pleased to honor them with a Luminary Award in GI Cancers with our partner, CURE Magazine.

We finished things off with a patient symposium, where we really draw on a bunch of patients to come and talk about their cancers. I always joke that they got a bunch of doctors in the room with no copay! The patients come pouring in and have lots of issues and questions. This year we focused on what you wish you had known from some of our veteran patients, in particular on just how important caregivers are to successful treatment in cancer.

We also talked about where patients get their information, how much doctor googling they do. Maybe your Uncle Joe sends you an email on something; do you follow that? How do you filter all of the information that you're getting as a patient and use your healthcare team to really drive down on that? That was fabulous content that will be on our website, for those of you who want to see it.

Respecting Every Patient's Experience

A valuable comment came up during the session with our patients. One patient mentioned that she got to ring the bell when she finished her adjuvant chemotherapy. In our infusion unit there is literally a bell that you go up to and ring when you are done. I am assuming that there is cheering that occurs from the others in the unit.

One of our patients, who was also actually serving as a panelist, noted that she is never going to get to ring the bell. She has metastatic colorectal cancer and is never going to have that moment when it's done and she's going to ring the bell and move on to the rest of her life.

We are, of course, talking about survivorship in this space. But it also hit a very sensitive nerve as a guy who's overseeing and running this infusion unit. Should there be this bell?

I've been picking on pink ribbons for a long, long time and how it can be very hard on patients to see us endorsing one cancer at the National Football League level, with everybody wearing pink socks for a month. Well, in our infusion centers, we are in essence doing the same thing. If you're someone who gets to ring the bell, you're one kind of patient, but so many of our patients are never going to have that experience.

I reached out to our nursing staff, and they said they've also noticed that just maybe this whole ringing-the-bell thing is mean to those patients who never get that opportunity. So, we've got to figure this out. We do want to give patients an opportunity to cheer for the end of their therapy and, if you will, move on with their lives, but we have to recognize the impact that that has on our patients who are not going to ever get to ring the bell.

Maybe we need to come up with some new thing for them to do on a regular basis, some anniversary-type event or something that allows them to acknowledge the fight that they're continuing. Their lives are not necessarily changing for the better as they fight with their metastatic disease.

Just a thought that I wanted to share during the holiday season, about taking care of those folks who do not get to ring their bell. We love them, too.

This has been John Marshall for Medscape.


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