In The First Cell (Basic, Oct.), oncologist Raza discusses a new approach to dealing with cancer.
Do you see a major shift in your field coming?
Absolutely. The current cancer paradigm, scientifically and financially, is simply untenable. A radical change in all of health care is imminent, with the realization that the best cure is still prevention. The ability to detect disease-perturbed networks months or even years before the actual clinical appearance of illness—be it diabetes, stroke, schizophrenia, or cancer—and taking steps to eliminate it at inception is a far better strategy than treating advanced diseases.
Do you think the pharmaceutical industry might resist this?
Not in the least. Instead of focusing on a few million sick patients, the industry will need to monitor every healthy individual from birth to death for the first signs of disease, which is surely a far more lucrative deal.
You write about the need for compassion in medical care. Does current medical training emphasize this for students?
Yes, of course medical training stresses compassion. It is the way our health-care “business” has evolved which robs doctors of the luxury to practice, express, and manifest the compassion they were taught. We become doctors we detest because of the demands placed on us to make money to keep the business running.
Your book relates some very moving stories about your patients. How do you retain a healthy emotional balance under such circumstances?
It is not an issue just for me but for all physicians involved in patient care. We don’t have simple formulas or algorithms to follow to find this balance. Rather, each patient demands a unique skill set from their doctors. We, in turn, learn to switch strategies, modify speech, alter styles to meet those demands. Patients are our best teachers. They guide and inspire us through the most challenging of times by their courage, their desire to live, their capacity to love. It is deeply humbling.
What advice can you offer patients and families at such times?
The same that Antonio Gramsci famously imparted: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” In other words, see the world as it really is, warts and all, but still forge ahead with courage, tenacity, persistence, acceptance. The will can overcome many challenges if hope remains alive.
Poetry seems to play an important role in your life. What does it mean to you?
To quote from Modern Poetry and Science by Octavio Paz: “To see with our ears, to feel with our minds, to combine our powers and use them to the limit, to know a little bit more about ourselves and discover within us unknown realities: is that not the aim assigned to poetry?”