Breast cancer, you know, will affect one in eight women. That is the statistic we have to drive home during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Dr. Allan Krutchik joins me now.
He’s a Breast Medical Oncologist at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and, doctor, from your point of view, those words that you’ve had to deliver and you’ve, again, I would assume, you’ve been with patients when you tell them, “You have cancer.” What is that like for you? And what is it like for the patient?
“Well, it’s devastating. So my approach has always been to put the patient at ease. Sit down, face to face, not standing, not be in a rush. Have the patient get off the exam table, sit across from me. And then I start off with the following: I say, ‘look, I realize this is a devastating diagnosis. But, we must think positive.’ And the other thing I stress, ‘ten years from now, whatever happens, it’s gonna be a blur. This will be behind you. And if you need to go through chemotherapy, or hormone therapy, or radiation therapy, our team will be there. I will be there, I’m available.’ And I think once we have this kind of communication, the patients are at ease, they’re comfortable, and then we get into the discussion of the diagnosis, the stage, and I feel very strongly when patients are educated, the fear disappears. And that’s the key thing.”
“My job is to make fear go away, and put them at ease, and put them in the frame of mind, ‘we’re treating this like a chronic disease. You’re prognosis is probably gonna be very good, irrespective of the stage, because we have so many new therapies.’ Even in those women that have more advanced breast cancer, I continue to offer the positive, predictive model that the future is hopeful, there are new treatments available, even if we don’t have them now. And I think, just by this approach, patients feel more comfortable because there’s so many misconceptions about what breast cancer is, the stage, the treatment, the side effects.”
What I’m hearing you say is, two things: Don’t get hung up on the number. And, science is on your side.
“Exactly, exactly. And I think when patients hear, as you had said in an earlier segment, in the last five years there has been tremendous research. Now 25, 30 years ago, and I’m dating myself, we would’ve never had the expectations of what we’re seeing today. And that’s why oncology has improved dramatically as far as how it’s helping patients.”
You are pretty new at the Georgia Cancer Center. Tell us a little bit about what that is like. What makes the cancer center different?
“It’s a facility that has all the specialties there. Not just the medical specialists, but we have the nursing support staff, and we have psycho-oncology. Which is excellent in helping patients get through the stressful periods of chemotherapy, and hair-loss, and other devastating things. And by the way, hair-loss itself, from drugs, should be improving dramatically with new therapies. So I just wanted to bring that point out. And so, we have this team approach. We meet in conferences, and we all agree, disagree, and then we come together with a unified opinion. Bring that back to the patient at their next visit. And I think they know that this team is working with them. Not just an individual, like myself, making all the decisions. So this is a crucial aspect of comprehensive cancer care.”
I guess it is really good for the patient too, to see people working together. And like you said, okay it’s more than one opinion. It’s not just one person’s idea. We’ve got a lot of minds on this, a lot of eyes on this case.
“Exactly, and I will say it doesn’t hurt to give the patient a hug once in a while. I’m from the old school of touch, and feeling, and giving the patients a sense that there’s a communication. Not the isolated, ice cold, here’s the diagnosis and here’s the treatment. That’s not the approach at the Georgia Cancer Center.”
That’s fantastic, and that sounds like when you’re going through that, that’s exactly that, human compassion is definitely what you need.