Three Things I learned in Head & Neck Surgery: Manuary Finale Talk


Yesterday we celebrated the Finale of our third season of Manuary. This year we raised close to $40,000.00 and a grand total over 3 years of $118,000.00. This is fantastic! We thank our patients, supporters and business partners. Half the funds raised will go to research, the other half directly to patients for treatment and life expenses. We had a celebration and I was asked to say a few words.

Here’s a transcript of my talk. Tell me if you see this happen in your departments too.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your kind invitation.

I’m still scratching my head as to why I was asked to say a few words here. I’m sure it’s not because of my wealth of experience in Head and Neck surgery or my exotic non-Canadian pseudo-Australian accent. My guess is that it’s simply because I have a flight ticket out of Canada in a few months, so if I said anything silly or controversial, I won’t be here too much longer to suffer the consequences.

I applaud the success of this Manuary movement. I congratulate Judy Phillips, Karen Woodworth and the many other heroes behind the scenes who have made this happen. Australia and the rest of the world do not have something as fantastic as this. I am grateful, and I’m sure our patients are grateful too, that someone thought of this, and acted on it. It’s definitely a great thing, and I hope to see that Manuary catch on internationally. We should get the ladies involved too and call it Womanuary. Don’t just let the men suffer like I have suffered through the month of January. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I haven’t been kissed for a month by my wife and kids.

Usually in talks like this, you expect 2 things from me. You expect something inspirational, and something funny. Now, I’m too young to say anything inspirational, and I’m too old to say anything funny. So I’m just going to tell you the 3 things that I have learned since I came here to do my fellowship. Is that ok with you? One thing about our patients, and 2 things about our head and neck multidisciplinary team.

  1. It is not just the disease that our patients are worried about. They are also worried about the dysfunction and deformity that comes with the disease and treatment.

We know this. We sense it in their questions. Will I speak again? Will I swallow again? Will I smile? Will I taste anything? Will the scars look horrible? Will my teeth and hair fall out? In other words, will I look like a monster?

Someone said: “It’s not death that I’m worried about. It’s dying.” In our patients, it’s not just the disease. It’s the deformity. In this image conscious world, how will people look at me from now on?

Therefore, it is good to pay attention to their concerns about appearance and function. Their smile, their speech, their voice, their swallow. It’s not just about survival outcomes. It’s returning them to who they are and how they look like as much as possible.

 The second thing I learned:

  1. All families fight. Bad families fight terribly. Good families fight honourably.

In Australia, our Tumour Board meetings are full of heated arguments and boxing kangaroos. We fight it all out in the ring and then have a barbecue together right after. Throw another shrimp on the barbie. Canada is way more polite. Your tumour board meetings are very cordial. But I’ve also noted the times when there are differences of opinions about how to manage patients. And that’s great. It is ok to believe that our treatments are beneficial, that our opinions are best for the patient. It’s ok to believe that we are offering our patient the best care possible. It is ok to have differences of opinions between surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, nurses, speech pathologists, etc. We do this because we want to fight for our patient’s best interests. Good families fight honourably by respecting the other members and holding up the patient’s interest above our tumour board. It’s great that way. Everybody wins.

 And thirdly. There are so many quotes from my Fellowship Director Dr Mark Taylor that I’ll be regurgitating back in Australia. This third lesson is one of them.

 Say it with me.

  1. I’m just a physician, not a magician.

I’m going to revise that to include all the other non-doctors who make a huge part of our team, and say “I’m just a clinician, not a magician.” It’s true. We’re all basically ordinary people with extraordinary specialist training in each of our specialties. But the funny thing is, magic does happen. I see magic happen in the OR, on the ward and in clinic. Our patients and our supporters think of us as magicians, and that’s why they trust us and support us. How do we become magicians when we’re all basically just mere clinicians? The answer, like what my Fellowship Director teach me, is found in the Bible. He quotes the Bible in his Grand Round talks. So tonight I will quote the Bible too.

From the Book of Mark. Mark 6:30-44. Jesus feeds 5000 people. The people were following Jesus. They didn’t bring any food. They got hungry and all they had were 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. So Jesus prayed and his disciples started to distribute food. I’ve often wondered at which point the miracle happened. I dare say that it would not have happened right on the spot because the Bible did not say “Lo and behold, a buffet line appeared from heaven and the people queued up.” My guess is that the miracle happened as each disciple started to distribute the little that they had, which then multiplied in their hands as they were passing from one another. It multiplied as it was being shared. I wonder if we clinicians become magicians in the eyes of our patients as we get together and distribute the little that we each bring to the table. As we distribute our expertise, the magic happens!

 And I see this in action through Manuary. As we all brought our little cookies, baking skills, hairy faces and donations, magic happens. I’m so glad to have been a part of this to see magic happens.

Those were the 3 little things I learned. I’ve talked for far too long. Congratulations again on the success of Manuary.