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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Dana Farber Community

The thing we noted immediately upon our first arrival at Dana Farber Cancer Institute was the remarkable staff. From the parking valet on up to Dr. Richardson himself, the positive attitude of everyone shines through. They all conduct themselves professionally, with cheerfulness, enthusiasm, cooperativeness, and complete attention to the patient's needs. They all make an effort to make the patients feel more comfortable.

We were quite impressed with Dr. Richardson. While he is not always on time for his appointments (that's a bit of an understatement), once he is with you, you have his complete, undivided attention. He is personable, looks you straight in the eye when talking, and makes an effort to get to know you personally. Of course, he is also as smart as hell. It was enlightening to see how he interacted with the rest of his team: his Fellow, Dr. Claudia Paba Prada, and the nursing staff. He is not pompous, and there were no inflated egos in the room. Everyone worked together in a collegial way to address the problem at hand (that would be me).

The rest of my visits to DFCI have been for taking medicine and having blood drawn. The nursing staff exudes the same aura of professionalism, warmth, and caring that we saw with Richardson and his staff. This attitude helps make my frequent visits more bearable.

All is not rosy however. The hardest part of being there is seeing the patients and their families, all of whom are dealing with difficult circumstances. And it's even more poignant when the patients are young.

Last week, while waiting for my appointment, I saw a nurse earnestly discussing some paperwork with a relatively young man. I overheard her mention the words "clinical trial" and "Dr. Richardson". I immediately thought that perhaps he was a recently-diagnosed MM patient and was about to enter the protocol I had just begun.

When the nurse left, I went over and introduced myself. His name is John. I asked if he was a new patient of Dr. Richardson. He said no, that he has been his patient for the last two years. He contracted MM at the age of 47! John added that he has been attending an MM support group, and while everyone else in the support group seemed to be responding well to their treatments, his treatment hasn't worked for him. Dr. Richardson doesn't understand why and is enrolling him in a clinical trial to try something new. I told him how sorry I was to hear that.

When I told him that I was recently-diagnosed and just starting a clinical trial, John turned to me and said, "I will pray for you, Bill". I didn't know what to say and came close to tears. Here was a man who had prematurely developed this dread disease while still in the prime of his life. The cast on his arm likely bespoke the havoc that MM had wreaked on his bones. He was running out of time and options, and HE was going to pray for ME? As one who is not generally disposed to prayer, I wasn't planning to pray for John. But then I did. I'll be thinking about him a lot.

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