As the Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Penn, I have never felt prouder of our incredibly devoted staff and faculty. They have stepped up as a group from the very beginning of this global COVID crisis and forged new paths. Our collective expertise and comfort working as a team to deliver the safest and most effective treatment to our patients has been in place from day one and will continue as we start our resurgence as a health system. I am certainly not alone in feeling pride about my colleagues, as the response from dedicated healthcare providers across the country has been inspiring.
When I talk about my pride in this team, I’m not just thinking about how things have changed from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic in the clinic and research. I also have a very personal before and after from right around the same time.
When I think back just a few months ago, pre-pandemic, I experienced a completely different vantage point. I was sitting in the waiting room. I sat in the seat in an exam room waiting for a physician. I watched in the hallway as the light flashed “beam on.” I was a caregiver. My father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in December 2019, and the tables radically turned, as did my perspective. Little did I know, in all the years I worked on bringing this treatment center to reality, that eventually my father was going to benefit from treatment here.
As I met my dad each day during his treatment, I saw my work environment and team through new eyes. I felt supported by the compassion and kindness of every person who took care of my dad along the way. I felt a renewed appreciation for the team and their incredible expertise in caring for cancer patients. There was a great amount of pride and confidence I felt knowing that my dad was receiving the best treatment possible. Through the ups and downs, the expertise and support that was provided to my dad and my family was simply exceptional. It gave him the strength to fight through some difficult moments, and I am happy to say that he has completed his treatments and continues to rest at home comfortably. I will never forget how it feels to sit on the other side as a caregiver, watching my loved one go through the fight of his life.
This is a profoundly challenging time for all of us, as there is so much uncertainty and a lot of changing information on a daily basis. It has been a source of great pride to lead a department that is so resilient, collaborative, and innovative. My awareness about the power of healthcare providers was heightened as I became a caregiver and has been repeatedly confirmed through the challenging times that COVID-19 has brought. All of the thanks that I have received from patients and family members over the years about our staff suddenly crystalized through this experience. We really do have an incredible team and I have been blessed to see that from both sides of the fence. I am humbled to say that I bring that to my daily work.
James M. Metz, MD, is the Henry K. Pancoast Professor and Chair of Radiation Oncology and director of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center at the Abramson Cancer Center. He is also the Executive Director of OncoLink and has been writing, leading and serving as a champion of the OncoLink mission for over 25 years.