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St. Louis, MO, United States
What the name sez, Christian, conservative, 2nd amendment supporter. Physician, wife, daughter and loving mother.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

See a Need, Meet a Need

Two years ago I heard the words "you have breast cancer." The reaction to these words is, at best, like being punched in the gut. Thoughts swirl uncontrollably in your head and most of the next words the doctor says are just "blah, blah, blah, blah blah." So far, my tale has been mostly a good one but, for others the tale is much less happy and the road is full of bumps.

Being a physician as well as a cancer survivor, I feel that whatever I can do to help others in this situation should be my personal mission. One of the things that I did during my treatment was agree to participate in a study on women with breast cancer in collaboration with two universities in my state. This was not a medical study, but rather an attitudinal and sociologic study and I found the questions intriguing. Many of the questions dealt with how the cancer patient was able to function during diagnosis and treatment...days lost to jobs, availability of transportation to treatments, access to supportive family and friends, ability to just talk to someone....By the end of my interview, I was in tears, knowing how lucky I was to have all of the things I needed to get through this personal ordeal.

Last week, while stopped in traffic waiting to make a right hand turn, I was rear-ended by a woman. When we pulled into a nearby parking lot to exchange information, I could see that she was shaken and upset far out of proportion to the relatively minor accident we had. She confided to me that she was on her way to the first of her 5-hour chemotherapy sessions for advanced breast cancer. The only papers that she had in her car to write down her exchange of information were pages of her medical records and information from the oncology center. She told me that she had been so upset by the news of her diagnosis and the prospect of her impending chemotherapy that she had been vomiting all evening. Clearly this woman was a danger to those on the road in her distracted state. Then I recalled the fact that the day I was given confirmation of my own diagnosis I had nearly run a red light on the way home. I was so deep in my own thoughts and all of the "What if's" that I had put the familiar drive home on autopilot.

I know that there are transportation programs for the elderly and the indigent, but are there programs for the ordinary cancer patient who is otherwise able to provide their own transportation and doesn't want to be a burden on others??? I pondered this on the way home from the auto body shop today after getting estimates of the damage to my car. We put so much emphasis on prevention, but providing transportation for the distraught or sick patient is really another kind of prevention program. We need to not just treat the cancer--we need to be aware of the emotional effects that the diagnosis of cancer places on the patient. We also need to realize that some people deal with this diagnosis in isolation.

The American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery
program provides free transportation to those who need transportation for ANY reason, however, when I tried to find this in my local area, I found nothing. Apparently this program relies entirely on volunteers who make their time available to take patients to their treatments. If you are looking to give back in a tangible way to the community, this would be a program well worth investigating in your own neighborhood. If you find yourself with time on your hands and a need to fill that time, this may be the right volunteer or service opportunity for you. You would be helping the community, helping a patient in need, and providing a companion to talk to during a time when there may be a need for a sympathetic ear.

For all of the faults and criticisms of our health care system, we have one of the best systems on the planet. We can effect cures for all manner of disease states and improve the quality of life for many but I fear that we look the other way, or perhaps have no idea of the fragility and vulnerability that we as health care providers produce when we give out bad news to a patient and then send them off to "deal with it."


  1. What a great program!! I had never contemplated the transportation issue until a good friend and collegue was dx with aggressive brain cancer. Folks at our company took turns helping the family get to and from Duke Hospital for a variety of reasons...

    The toll a serious illness takes on a family involves all aspects of ones life, and you are right we do have the best medical care here.

    Thanks for the spotlight.

  2. This world needs many more spirits with such compassion as you. I commend you for being one of these
    Unlike alot of folks in this world, I have yet to contact this dreaded disease. I speak a quiet prayer most daily that I don't.
    Lord knows I've had enough happen to me in my 62 years, I'm lucky to be alive!
    In the paths I've walked I've had the opportunity to have these "Spirits" to drive me, council me and my loved ones and prepare me for at last the journey to the Spirit World.
    GOD bless you Carolyn, this woman of many hats. You are special indeed!

  3. I have to admit that after this woman and I shared our information, we also shared an embrace. I have NEVER had a traffic accident where the parties left wishing each other only the best and parted with a hug! This simply reinforces my belief that God brings people together for purposes that we would never, otherwise, comprehend.