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The doctor who laughed at cancer


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From the Napa Valley Register, a reader writes an open letter to her father's onc. I am in tears as I post this.

The doctor who laughed at cancer

Wednesday, November 3, 2004


Dear Dr. Greg Smith,

Why do you fight for the terminally ill in what may seem like such a futile battle? Because you can and because it makes a significant difference to the families you fight for. Just in case you are ever questioning why you do what you do, I would like to remind you that what you do has a profound impact on our lives.

When I first heard of dad's death sentence of "Oat cell carcinoma," I collapsed in defeat, reminded of how this cancer rapidly ravaged a friend of mine years ago. I felt hopeless, but not for long. You walk in a room with a spirit unlike any physician I have ever encountered and I've worked in the medical field for 25 years. You are different, a mix of General Patton, Robin Williams and Gandhi.

Most physicians seem to focus on the physical aspect of the patient -- the disease and the prognosis. Maybe instead of telling patients they are terminally ill, doctors should just tell them that their ability to help them has terminated. I've seen doctors tell patients how long they have to live and when that time comes, the patient dies right on schedule. That's how much power there is in belief, which is the key to healing and is unlocked by the physician. And healing doesn't necessarily come with a cure. Healing has it's own unique, individual expression. You've never told us how long my father has to live.

It seemed like you laughed at the giant cancer like it was Goliath and you were Samson, and your humor is contagious. I felt like you were more concerned about my father's well being than you were about Goliath. Do you realize that meant more to me than Goliath too? You came armed with a plan of attack and I was immediately inspired to fight the battle along with you. I didn't care that we can't cure this kind of lung cancer. All I cared about was the win that I saw through you. I had no idea what we would win, but now I do.

This year has been one of the best years of my life spent with my father. Suffice to say it was never easy for he and I to get along. To be honest, the whole story has been erased. Please believe me when I say that this is my miracle. This is what you gave me, Dr. Smith. You gave me enough time with my father to trade in all of my childhood memories for new and better ones. I heard him tell me everything a daughter wants to hear. I got the apology I never expected and the acknowledgment I've always wanted. You gave us that, Dr. Smith.

Do you ever wonder why you are an oncologist? Please don't. The truth is, you make people feel better. That's what the physician is charged with. In its simplicity is the profound meaning of your purposeful vocation. By making people feel better you work miracles. You give the gift of time, a new meaning to Life and the opportunity for people to heal whatever it is that needs healing. I will never forget you and all that you have done for this family. This battle has been won. Please don't ever forget us if you are ever in doubt.

(Dunn lives in Napa.)

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