Q&A with Suleika Jaouad, The New York Times Emmy® Award Winning Columnist, “Life, Interrupted,” and Cancer Survivor

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In advance of the Turning the Tide Against Cancer 2014 national conference, the Age of Personalized Medicine editorial team posed questions to Suleika Jaouad, The New York Times Emmy® Award winning columnist of “Life, Interrupted,” and cancer survivor, who will be speaking at the event on October 9 in Washington, D.C. Below, Suleika shares insights from the patient perspective on the need for a patient-centered approach to cancer care.

QUESTION: As a cancer patient, would you describe your health care experience as “patient-centered”? Why or why not?

Suleika Jaouad: Yes and no. I feel deeply grateful and indebted to my doctors who have always gone above and beyond to provide me with the very best care, but the lack of patient-clinician communication has been an ongoing struggle and source of frustration for me. For example, just a few days after my diagnosis, I learned via Google search that the chemotherapy treatments I was scheduled to undergo in less than a week would most likely leave me infertile. It was only after I initiated a conversation about fertility that my doctors told me about the available options. This felt like a major breach of trust early on in my treatment and I couldn’t help but wonder what else my doctors weren’t telling me. At 22, I hadn’t had the chance to start a family yet. Preserving my ability to be a mother one day felt like a lifeline to an already uncertain future. After explaining this to my medical team, they agreed to delay chemotherapy so that I could undergo fertility preservation treatments. This experience was the first of many that made me realize I needed to take an active role in my medical care in order to better advocate for myself.

QUESTION: In your opinion, how can we create a more patient-centered approach to cancer research and care?

Suleika Jaouad: Communication is the golden ticket. We live in the WebMD age where patients often consult Google before they consult a doctor. This can be dangerous and can lead to misinformation and misunderstandings. Creating an environment where the patient feels comfortable asking questions and talking to their medical team is crucial. It’s also very important for clinicians to educate their patients and to take the time to explain things more than once in clear, simple language. My doctors are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. This made me feel safe and like I was in good hands, but half of the time I felt lost in the conversation. A lot of the terminology and medical jargon they used sounded like a foreign language to me. I wanted to understand and learn more about my disease but I often felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start.


Visit the Turning the Tide Against Cancer website to register for the conference and learn more about ways you or your organization can support the ongoing initiative. The Age of Personalized Medicine will also be tweeting live from the conference on October 9. Join the conversation with #T3cancer.

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