Oncologist Shares Her Vulnerability: A Personal Story From ASCO Voices

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Topics include: Self-Advocacy and Empowerment

As one of the five selected for the 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting’s special session “ASCO Voices,” expert Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah, from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, took the stage to share a personal experience that has shaped her practice as an oncology professional. Dr. Subbiah’s talk, titled “Doing Everything,” reflects on a traumatic health scare with her son Nathan. Watch now to hear her story and the inspiring impact it had at ASCO 2019.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

So it was something that came out of nowhere, and the title of my talk was Do Everything.  And that reflects the words that I kept saying over and over again to his teacher as my husband and I rushed over to his school. And it was a difficult time for many reasons, and the number one would be how helpless and desperate I felt, because his survival was not in my hands.  His well?being, what's going to happen to him, there was nothing I could do about it from being far away from there.  And even from being there, I had to put the trust of his care into another team's hands.  

And so these were experiences that shaped my practice certainly as a palliative care physician and in an oncology setting.  And so our patients come here with their families, so they are—the caregivers are there, and the underlying theme in our conversations, you can always tell the terror, the panic that goes with having a diagnosis of cancer, and going through the treatments for it.  

And so it changed my practice to one where I do talk about that, and I acknowledge what they're going through, and I provide them with the opportunity to share that part of their experience with me so that they realize that we do understand just how much of an impact this diagnosis is having on them.  

The people who come to ASCO, many of them are physicians, but just as many are nurse practitioners, they're people from pharma who are there who have a considerable presence there who may not actually see the patients.  And so there were many of them in the audience and they got to hear about the human experience that we see all day, every day.  

And so for those in the audience who were clinicians, and we had—one of those speakers was also a physical therapy physical therapist, so truly any clinician who has contact with the patient—so the clinicians in the audience, many of them recognized elements of their own experiences, whether it's personal or professional, in the stories that they heard on stage that day.  And it acknowledges the very real part of our practice which is heavy, heavy in human emotions.  So the clinicians in the audience in any capacity really did appreciate that.  

And those who were nonclinical folks who are working towards ending cancer but may not have that patient contact got a glimpse of just what it means to be in that setting, and it was that much more inspiring for them.  And so for the—this happened on the Saturday of the conference and there were three more days, and I had people come up to me throughout the meeting sharing what their thoughts were, and that was very reassuring because it takes a lot for anyone to share their personal experience and demonstrate that level of vulnerability in a very public setting, but five years later I did feel it was a story that I wanted to share, so I was appreciative of the platform to do that.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on August 20, 2019