By Matthew T. Ballo, M.D., associate professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, MD Anderson Regional Care Center in the Bay Area
"Medicine should be seen primarily as caring for people's health rather than as fighting a war against disease."
- Virginia L. Warren, Ph.D
From the 'Medicine is War' Metaphor*
I first read these words almost 20 years ago and the message has had a lasting effect. The idea that we should think of our clinics as environments for caring for patients, rather than arenas for fighting, would seem obvious but does require some effort.
Taking the high road
Three years ago, we created a lifestyle rehabilitation program (The Road to Wellness Program) as part of a caring environment for patients receiving cancer treatment. The idea was to promote wellness, prepare patients for life without cancer, and reduce stress and fatigue -- all through education aimed at exercise, nutrition, stress management and smoking cessation.
While this concept may not seem particularly groundbreaking in the era of survivorship and patient advocacy, it has required some change in our approach to patients receiving radiation treatments.
Striking a balance
In the alternative model where caring is stressed, long-term patient needs, be they physical, psychological, social, spiritual or economic, are addressed proactively. General wellness is stressed just as much as radiation treatment, so that one is not viewed as more important than the other.
A simple change in mind set where medicine is not viewed as a battle can permeate the treatment phase of the cancer journey and have lasting effects on our patients. When we consciously avoid the "medicine is war" metaphor and focus on wellness, we leave behind the negative imagery of destruction and create an environment where patients are returning to something familiar rather than moving into something unknown.
Source: *Warren, VL. HEC Forum 1991;3:39-50