NCI: An Appreciation
Everyone knows that the National Cancer Institute is at the forefront of cancer research, but most people don't know that it's also at the forefront when it comes to caring. For years I have served on the board of the Children's Inn at NIH where terribly sick youngsters and their families can stay while the child is receiving treatment at one of the institutes. I've witnessed the remarkable spirit of the children, many of them bald, talking excitedly about their doctors and nurses.
When my sister Barbara was dying of melanoma, we visited NCI because of the breakthrough work of Dr. Stephen Rosenberg. Little did I know when we made an appointment with this preeminent researcher what a blessing he would become in what little life Barbara had yet to live - and what an important friend he would become to me. From time to time, I called on him about friends, and then I found myself calling him on my own behalf.
After years as a visitor to the NIH campus (I went to school across the street at Stone Ridge and watched the buildings go up) my diagnosis with breast cancer in 2002 suddenly switched my role - now I would be a patient. (We need to come up with another term; those of us with a cancer diagnosis are anything but patient.) I wanted to be treated at NCI because the smartest doctors in the country work there. I wasn't disappointed on that score, but I also found that I was being treated by doctors and nurses who were kind, considerate, engaged, and blessedly endowed with senses of humor.
Dr. Joanne Zujewski will be my friend for what I hope will be a long and healthy life. She and Dr. Sandra Swain have been unfailingly helpful to me and my family, seeing us through a difficult time, while providing us with the most up-to-date scientific information. They have educated me while treating me.
And I can't say enough about the nursing staff. The respect for nurses at NCI is one of the things that makes it a world-class institution. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their work, the nurses know that they have the confidence of the physicians and convey that confidence to their patients. The amount of clearly presented information they impart about treatments and medications is absolutely invaluable.
While I was still in chemotherapy I took a trip to London to meet my newest grandson. I started running a fever on a Sunday night. I called the number for Thirteen East, fully expecting to get a recording. Instead, I got Kim who monitored me from afar until she and the doctor she had contacted decided I should go to a hospital. In the few hours I was there, my attending physician talked regularly to the doctor back in the States until both agreed that I was good to go. Talk about care!
Every day I seem to read some new bulletin about NCI making progress in the battle against this stupid disease. I pray that you may someday put yourselves out of business. Until then, all I can say is please, keep up the wonderful work. And thank you.
Cokie Roberts is a political commentator for ABC News and senior news analyst for National Public Radio.