2009-04-24 / Columnists

SJEH Wellness Corner

Brighter Future for Cancer Patients
Commentary By Mendel Warshawsky, MD Chief Oncology, St. John's Episcopal Hospital

I must admit I didn't always want to be an oncologist. Years ago, as a medical student, there seemed to be so many other more exciting specialties. But as I rotated through the medical and surgical wards it became apparent that oncology was the forgotten discipline. Patients suffering from malignancies underwent toxic treatments for months, all the while suffering emotional and physical pain.

My decision to become an oncologist was made when I encountered cancer personally and with a family member. As we traversed the healthcare system together, it became clear that treating cancer is different than treating heart disease or diabetes. The word cancer evokes such deep emotions and has unfortunately so many negative connotations. All cancer sufferers are terrified and worry for themselves and their loved ones.

Many cancer patients succumb to their disease and almost all are scarred physically and emotionally even when the treatments have ended.

I decided there must be a better, more individualized and humane way to take care of patients with cancer. Surely their care requires more than just surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Without a doubt we must recruit family members, pain specialists, pastoral care and social workers to offer a complete and compassionate treatment approach.

Fortunately, the oncology community has paralleled these efforts and, today, it is common practice to enroll every resource possible from day one to give the best care possible to patients. Indeed, there exists today survivorship programs that continue to care for cancer patients long after the cancer has gone, recognizing that the after effects of the disease and the toxic treatments can last a lifetime.

The field of oncology has also made great strides in the last decade with new, less poisonous drugs and innovative treatment approaches that allow patients to live longer and with more quality than ever before.

The future looks brighter with every passing day.

I have recently accepted the position as Chief of Oncology at St.

John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. I trained at Maimonides Medical Center as an oncologist and joined the staff there in a comprehensive cancer center. It is exciting to bring the lessons learned from a large center to St. John's. I am confident we can build on an already strong base to continue to bring quality cancer care to our community so cancer patients need not worry about travelling far for treatments at this difficult time of their lives. I am also committed to ensuring that every patient be given the best medical care as well as the best homecare, pain management, family care, emotional support and end-of-life care. At St. John's, we pledge to treat each and every patient as an individual with needs that are unique. To this end, we promise to offer comprehensive and compassionate care to all cancer patients. I can be reached at 718-869- 7672 in the Department of Medicine at St. John's Episcopal Hospital.

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