It’s OK to Share!

Author: Margaret Tempero MD
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Two things happened to me this week that made me stop, pause, and reflect. Frankly, I don’t do that enough.

The first event happened during the weekly conference I have with my nursing team. This conference always occurs on Monday, so we usually first detail the previous weekend’s activities, eager to hear who had the best adventure. Then we run through a litany of issues with patients: updates, problem-solving, those sorts of things. And then we rush from the meeting, because while we were talking, other issues that need our attention started piling up! However, this week one of the nurses asked if she could share something that was bothering her.

She explained that a patient’s recent death was really taking a toll on her. This reaction was unusual for our team; most of our patients are terminal and, although every death brings sadness, we can usually march on. What was even more unusual was that this patient was a very difficult one. She had many demands and unusual fears, and her nurse dreaded every call. Still, the nurse always took the call and never lost her patience with this patient, so perhaps over time, the nurse developed strong empathy with this tortured soul. At any rate, we took the time to provide solace and reassurance that she did everything possible to make this patient’s journey as comfortable as possible.

The second event occurred during a scientific lecture about pancreatic cancer. The lecturer was from Europe, and Russia had just invaded Ukraine. At the end of his lecture, he showed touching pictures of bombed buildings, masked children in shelters, and people on the street in pain and disbelief. He prefaced showing these photos with the comment that perhaps this was not appropriate for this presentation, but he felt that we could not ignore what was happening in the world. This was his way of honoring the Ukrainian people and calling attention to this depraved situation. He left the audience a bit speechless, I admit. Afterward, I thanked him for sharing his concerns and said that in doing so, I know he helped us more firmly register ours.

Both of these events speak to the importance of not holding back. When we carry a burden, it helps to open up and talk it through with someone we can trust. Many of us were raised to “grin and bear it.” We were taught that handling difficult things on our own was a strength, but maybe that wasn’t such good advice. Maybe that’s why mental health issues and substance abuse permeate our society.

Being physically apart during much of the past 2 years has interfered with our opportunities to share. Now that most of us can mingle again, let’s take every chance we get to find out how our friends are really doing, and just as importantly, share our concerns with them. I know it helps.

MARGARET TEMPERO, MD

Margaret Tempero, MD, is a Professor of Medicine and Director of the UCSF Pancreas Center and editor-in-chief of JNCCN. Her research career has focused on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, especially in the area of investigational therapeutics. Dr. Tempero has served on the ASCO Board of Directors and as ASCO President. She currently serves on the ASCO Conquer Cancer Foundation Board. She codirected the AACR/ASCO Methods in Clinical Cancer Research and taught this course and similar courses in Europe and Australia. She was founding Chair of the NCI Clinical Oncology Study Section and served as a member and Chair of the NCI Board of Scientific Counselors Subcommittee A. She is a member of the Scientific Steering Committee and Chair of the Clinical and Translational Study Section for the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. She is or has been on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the Lustgarten Foundation, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the V Foundation, The Alberta Canada Cancer Board, and the EORTC. She served as a member of the Oncology Drug Advisory Committee for the FDA. She has served as Deputy Director and Interim Director for the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center. She is Chief Emeritus of the Division of Medical Oncology at UCSF. She served as the founding Deputy Director and was later Director of Research Programs at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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