Listen to ASCO’s Journal of Clinical Oncology essay, “The Will to Go On,” by Dr. Sumit Shah, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Oncology and Medical Director of Digital Health at Stanford University School of Medicine. The reading is followed by an interview with host Dr. Lidia Schapira and essay author Dr. Shah. Dr. Shah explores a patient’s will to live and recounts witnessing a powerful bond between a patient and her spouse.
Lidia Schapira: Welcome to JCO’s Cancer Stories: The Art of Oncology, brought to you by ASCO podcasts, which offer a range of educational and scientific content and enriching insight into the world of cancer care. You can find all of the shows including this one at podcast.asco.org.
I'm your host, Lidia Shapira, Associate Editor for Art of Oncology, and Professor of Medicine at Stanford. With me today is Dr. Sumit Shaw, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Oncology and Medical Director of Digital Health at Stanford University School of Medicine. We'll be discussing his Art of Oncology article, ‘The Will to Go On.’
Full disclosures for our guests will be linked in the transcript and can be found on the article’s publication page.
Sumit, welcome to our podcast!
Sumit Shaw: Thank you, Lidia! It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Lidia Schapira: It is our pleasure. So, before we start to discuss ‘The Will to Go On’, I'd love to ask you a general question about what you read and what you're currently reading now, and what you can perhaps recommend to our listeners.
Sumit Shaw: Yeah, absolutely, Lidia. So, when I'm not reading randomized clinical trials in oncology, I try my best to read for enjoyment. I typically right before going to bed. I tend to gravitate towards work outside of medicine. Currently, I'm reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is a World War 2 story told through the eyes of a blind French girl and a German boy in France and how their parallel paths eventually intersect.
Doerr writes so beautifully and uses language to create these very vivid scenes. It's really a remarkable masterpiece that's taken him over 10 years to write. So, it’s quite extraordinary and highly recommended to our listeners and readers.
Lidia Schapira: Thank you! I love that book. I share your enthusiasm. Let's move now to your story, ‘The Will to Go On’. You describe an encounter with patient Diane and her husband during your 2-weeks stint as the attending physician in an academic oncology inpatient service.
So, let's start and unpack that for a moment. How do you envision that role in terms of your connection to patients? I've heard many colleagues who say that it's very difficult because they don't know these patients and they haven't cared for them. How can you introduce some humanism into that role?
Sumit Shaw: Yeah, absolutely, Lydia. So, we have several services that deal with just Oncology at Stanford. My favorite service is the teaching service where we're working with residents and interns and fellows, strictly with patients who have cancer.
It is a very emotionally charging month for our trainees. And a lot of my responsibility, I think, is actually keeping that dynamic and the culture of the team to be as positive as possible.
So, I have certainly a responsibility to my patients, which I think is really important, but really also to the trainees. And so, I think it's incredibly important that we model good behavior.
So, that's what I see as a large part of my job is really having these very difficult conversations with patients for the most part that we've never met because they're often treated by their own primary oncologist who's someone different than I, and oftentimes even more challenging given that they're typically coming in with a disease that we may not be even familiar with, given that we mostly subspecialize at Stanford as well