Celebrating Cancer Survivors 2019 Changed my Perspective on Treating Cancer Patients

“I started to question myself, why isn’t a survivorship program part of the treatment guidelines.” - Dr. Adatia

I still remember the evening of 6th June 2019, at the Stanford Cancer Institute, my Mentor, Dr. Lidia Schapira, also the Director of Cancer Survivorship Program warmly welcomed me and my colleagues to the Celebrating Cancer Survivors 2019 event. The room was gathered with survivors, fighters, doctors and nurses. It was the safest place to be. I could see the smiles and excitement in the eyes of the audience while I eagerly waited for the program to start. 

I still cannot forget my moments of “wow” when I heard about the advancements of Cancer treatment and moments of sobbing listening to survivors Cancer journeys. I can’t forget or never will forget how happy the audience was after the event. It was like they were illuminated by a light from within, like their spirits and strengths got resuscitated. It gave the survivors a new perspective to life, an inspiration, a reason to look for a hobby, and to make friends. I started to question myself, why isn’t a survivorship program part of the treatment guidelines? This is just as important as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy. I remember one of the survivors mentioning “My pictures tell my story”, and I thought to myself isn’t story telling part of cancer management? Do survivorship platforms really address this issue? Do Oncologists address issues other than medical treatments?

I started work as an Oncologist at the Aga Khan Hospital in November 2017. I and my team gladly took up the Cancer Support group meetings which are held every 3 months. It had been a peer led event where a multidisciplinary team including nutritionists, yoga experts, and pharmacists educated survivors and their family on several issues. After my return from ASCO and preceptor-ship under Dr. Lidia’s fantastic mentorship, I got inspired. I shared this experience with the team and the support groups began feeling like a platform of discussions and story telling’s. 

 7th June 2019 - I spent this day with Dr. Kavitha Ramchand, an Oncologist and a Palliative Care specialist. She introduced me a complete new aspect of patient care. I then completed a free online training on Palliative Care from Stanford University and involved all my nurses to complete the training with me. With this inspiration, I completed an extensive training on Palliative and Supportive Care at the Institut Curie, France where I spent some time again on Survivorship. I learnt a new concept - Therapeutic Education.

Therapeutic education is education managed by health care providers trained in the education of patients and it is designed to enable a patient or a group of patients and families to manage the treatment of their conditions and prevent avoidable complications while maintaining or improving quality of life. It boosts patients independence, helping them obtain and maintain the necessary skills to live more comfortably with their disease.

A lot of cancer patients I know maintain that you become a survivor the day you are handed a cancer diagnosis. As one patient put it bluntly, “A cancer survivor would be someone who a) has cancer and b) is not dead.” And others define survivorship as crossing the finish line to remission or a cure.

The term support groups’ definition is either exclusionary or overly broad. So I redefine it. I call it “A second Chance at Life”. Now the patients at Aga Khan Hospital Dar-es-Salaam benefit from Survivorship events and Therapeutic Educations by offering a second chance at life by finding purpose, a reason to wake up with a smile, a hobby and everlasting friendship.

My IDEA experience made me realize two things. Firstly, there is so much more you can do other than offering cytotoxic agents from your clinic, and secondly patients’ quality of life is of high importance and should be prioritized by every health care giver.

One of the major hurdles in treating patients with cancer in the Tanzania is the associated financial burden however with the help of my mentors and the networks established during the ASCO Annual Meeting and through the IDEA program, I hope to be able to make a difference in whatever way possible.

To say that the ASCO IDEA program is inspirational. The lessons I learnt, the friends I made changed my life. I am blessed to have Dr. Lidia Schapira as my mentor and I am infinitely grateful to ASCO and the IDEA program for this honor.