Pediatric oncologist. Prostate cancer. What happens if a doctor gets cancer?
If you’re healthy, young and fit, how could you possibly get cancer?
F. Ralph Berberich, M.D., wrote Hit Below the Belt: Facing Up to Prostate Cancer to offer the perspective of a doctor who became a patient.
A pediatric oncologist for seven years, then a general practice pediatrician for twenty years, he writes about cancer with an insider’s knowledge.
Who Are the Players?
Diagnosed in 1998 at the age of 54, with adeno-carcinoma of the prostate, moderately undifferentiated, with a Gleason score of 7 (4+3) and a PSA of 6.1, Berberich’s book was published in 2001.
He outlines for the reader the medical hierarchy as it relates to who has the most information about cancer cases like yours.
General practitioners, your own neighborhood doctor, see cases like yours the least often and generally refer you to a specialist if they have some reason to suspect cancer, like rising PSAs or a lump found during an exam.
Specialists, like urologists, who treat prostate cancer, and especially those in hospitals, see cases like yours on a regular basis.
University-based specialists, who are also researchers, see cases like yours more than anyone else and focus on staying up-to-date on the latest treatments, which they may also be developing.
Personal attention to each patient goes in reverse order, with university-based specialists the least likely to establish a personal relationship with patients.
Does It Help to Be a Doctor?
Berberich describes the advantages of being a doctor – he understood how to do research.
And, the disadvantages – you can keep doing research endlessly. At some point, you have to make a decision – radiation or surgery?
He chose radiation (external beam) and radiation seed implants (brachytherapy).
He describes the camaraderie that he shared with other doctors during his research.
This lasted right up until he was to undergo a test, diagnostic procedure or treatment, when doctors and nurses reverted to the same professional distance they maintained with all patients.
He talks about exploring support groups, until it became clear other patients wanted his professional opinion.
An effort to start a doctors with cancer support group eventually ended as doctors were reluctant to share private information with colleagues.
What Does It Feel Like?
Dr. Berberich discusses the emotional landscape of cancer.
“Life has settled back to a kind of normalcy. Not a day passes by without my realizing that I have cancer. It is a chronic mental condition as well as a physical one…
A certain optimism has left me forever. I can no longer…believe that I will escape the ravages of sickness and death by being a doctor.”
What Does He Recommend?
He made some changes to his lifestyle. Despite a busy pediatric practice, he decided to walk every morning and swim twice a week.
- Switched to a largely vegetarian diet
- Eats more vegetables and soy
- Finds some enjoyment in every day.
He debunks his own misconceptions, his excuse for delaying a recommended biopsy.
A biopsy does not spread cancer cells. Any cells broken loose by the biopsy die.
Although he cautions readers not to expect cures from alternative approaches because they do not have the objective testing of clinical trials behind them, he eventually used yoga, acupuncture and herbal supplements for side effects.
Not only did he keep extensive notes, which turned into this book, he took on small creative projects along the way, to focus on the future and continue to contribute.
Where Is He Now?
Dr. Berberich is in private practice as a pediatrician in Berkeley, California, where grateful parents say he excels in helping children learn how to take shots.
To you and those you hold close.
On Thursdays, we review books by cancer survivors or classic children’s books that mothers and grandmothers have found to stand the test of time. Click here if you want to keep getting these blog posts in your Reader.
Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”
- Prostate screening does more harm than good in US (newscientist.com)