An Exceptional Oncologist
Cancer can be a difficult disease to come to terms with for the patient as well as his/her family. Commonly, people feel a sense of shock when they are diagnosed with the condition and many times are totally unaware of what to do next. Close relatives, friends, and healthcare professionals play an important role in helping the patient and the family to cope with the situation and to make the “cancer journey” that much easier to manage.
The role of healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, hospital administration staff, cleaners and many others play a key role in enabling the patient and their families to understand and manage the situation in the best way possible.
Cancer doctors or Oncologists as they are called play a central role in this process. How they receive, interact, discuss, plan, and implement treatment, defines the route this cancer journey takes. Most healthcare professionals are hardworking and do a good job in this process. Some are exceptional and excel in the process. Here is one such experience.
My father was diagnosed with a Non Hodgkins lymphoma in 1998. At that time, I was in the UK and it was the first year of my training. Training jobs were difficult to get then, and I was only doing part time work. The diagnosis was a huge shock to him and all of us in the family. Me being abroad added an extra dimension to it. There were two choices to make. Either I go back to India and support his treatment there with the possibility of risking my career or he travels to the UK and stays with me for treatment. It was a difficult decision. I was relatively new in the UK, and even though my mother and me were doctors, we had little knowledge about the treatment options that would be used. While considering these options, we had a stroke of luck or you could call it divine intervention.
A friend of mine, with whom I lived in London, had a relative who was an Oncologist. He was working at The Christie hospital in Manchester, which is a famous cancer centre in the UK and Europe was only 30 miles from where we lived.
The Clinical Oncologist working there was Dr Hanumantha Rao Gattamaneni. Dr Rao, as he was known there, trained as an Oncologist at PGI Chandigarh, after which he went to the UK.
I spoke to Dr Rao on the phone and later met him with all the results. He explained to us the results of all tests and scans in detail and offered to treat my father at the Christie. This was such a relief to us as we had found a good place close to where I lived and more importantly a good doctor who we could approach and communicate easily.
A few days after we met him, my father’s treatment started with chemotherapy. This was given once every three weeks and we travelled to Manchester for every course. For the first course, dad needed to stay in hospital overnight and discharged the next day. On that day, Dr Rao insisted and took all of us to his house for a home cooked Andhra lunch. Following that he dropped us off at the station. After the second cycle of chemotherapy, he went one step ahead. He again insisted and dropped us at our home 30 miles away in his car. He looked after my father with utmost care and at the same time made sure our costs were minimised as much as possible. After completion of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy, my father recovered well and was well enough to go back to India. Dr Rao did not charge any professional fee and on our insistence asked for 1 pound as a token.
Over the course of the next 13 years, my father had treatment under the care of Dr Rao many times with chemotherapy and other therapies. Numerous phone calls to him during this period from myself and my parents asking about side effects, prognosis, tests, results etc happened. Over this entire period, the care that was given to us was exceptional to say the least. The patience, competence, compassion, and empathy shown to us over such a long period of time had been a masterclass for me as a budding Oncologist at that time.
In my career as an Oncologist, I have always tried to provide the same kind of care given by Dr Rao to us, but after nearly 20 years of working in the speciality I haven’t yet taken a patient to my house for a meal or dropped them at their home. Hopefully, I will be able to reach those levels of care some day in the future. I have seen many excellent doctors and other healthcare professionals in my career in the UK and India. They have always tried their best with their only goal being the welfare of their patients. A few of them have been exceptional and Dr Rao has been one of them.