By Dr. Chuck Sturgis, pathologist
As a hospital-based anatomic pathologist, I spend the majority of my working hours seated at a microscope studying the cells, fluids, blood and tissues of patients. My job is broad and all encompassing, while being very detail oriented at the same time. There are certain days when I diagnose several people with either new or recurrent malignant diseases in the span of a few hours. For the most part, I don’t have the pleasure or joy of knowing these patients in a personal way. I only know their cells.
In the laboratory, we are shielded from the anxiety and fear that is part of the patient as a whole. Cells and tissues are, by definition, having an “out-of-body” experience by the time they arrive at my microscope, and these once-living representatives of the larger being are resting in beautifully preserved displays. The cells that I study are “survivors” in the sense that they are small pieces of the person forever preserved in brighter-than-living colors between pieces of microscope glass.
Surviving a Chronic Disease is a Daily Process
Surviving a chronic disease is a daily process. Actions such as breathing and eating – that ought to progress without much thought – can be made difficult by both diseases and therapies. Interpersonal relationships may be strained with needs for special care and consideration. Questions may prevent restful sleep.
Surviving is different for each person, even for different people with the same disease processes diagnosed with the same grade (degree of malignancy) and the same stage (extent of disease). This is because we are all unique.
In seeking understanding and strength, I personally find great comfort in the kindness of people around me. Surviving a challenging day (whether in health or illness) can be easier when the day is shared with someone who contributes to the process in a constructive way.
We Respect and Value You
Many cancer patients, their friends and families are not aware of it, but there is a team of dedicated laboratory professionals who is intrinsic to their survival. These people, including accessioning staff, typists, technicians, pathologists and others work behind the scenes with not only professionalism and excellence in mind, but with care in their hearts.
We want survival not just for today but for the long term. We respect and value you. Your cells, tissues, fluids and blood are things you share with us. And, in so doing, you trust us. There are dedicated teams of laboratorians working behind the scenes all day long, every day.
Some of our team members have faced cancers themselves or have held a loved one’s hand or comforted a patient during a biopsy or blood draw. These people are on your side, and what they do is more than a job. Perhaps this knowledge with help abate some anxiety and calm some fears.
Classically, “pathology” is the defined as “the study of suffering.” In considering every detail, I aim to decrease suffering and increase survival. I am on your side.
Learn More from Dr. Sturgis
I will be giving a talk about cancer diagnosis and taking questions from the community at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, on Tuesday, February 18, at 5 p.m., in Conference Room A/B on the first floor. Everyone is welcome to attend this free event. See the Facebook event listing here.
Survive and thrive!