The letter was written by Joseph M, a melanoma cancer patient at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute Saint John’s Health Center.

My name is Joseph (everyone calls me Jay). I am a melanoma patient of Drs. Fischer and O’Day. During the course of this process, I looked at their bios on the website. Dr. Fischer had an excerpt from a radio interview in which he mentioned the “team approach” to cancer treatment at John Wayne. With this in mind I thought it might be worthwhile to offer some thoughts on some team members I met.

First I would mention Dr. Fischer himself. From our first meeting, he showed confidence and competence without a hint of arrogance that one might expect to accompany the first two traits. At least as important, he looks you straight in the eye and LISTENS. A rare trait among humans. Several years ago I read a report (or perhaps I heard it on NPR) that said when a doctor enters an exam room, he interrupts the patient after an average of 42 seconds. The better to shine their brilliance on the world, I guess. Once you think to look for it, you find this habit is common in other walks of life as well. But Dr. Fischer listens and gives the impression that you are his only patient and there is nowhere else he needs to be. A silly notion, but refreshing.

Another person I would like to bring up, and who I would guess receives far too little credit, is Demetrius (hope I got the spelling right) in pre-op. I’m embarrassed to say I never got his last name nor job title but he was a godsend. We met the moment I entered my room and right away I felt an aura of low key optimism and good humor. Nothing phony or put on, just obviously a man with a big heart that lives the motto “life is good”.

After we had been in that room for a while, the nurse, Patty (another team member that deserves praise; patient and kind) stepped away to attend to other matters and my wife Gail needed to hit the restroom. Then for the first time that day I was left alone with my thoughts. And it dawned on me that I was scared. I tried to analyze my emotions. Am I scared of surgery? No. Am I scared of dying? No, not really. I’m just plain scared, like a puppy placed in an unfamiliar environment without his litter mates.

Just then Dee (I think his co-workers call him that) walked up to a counter about 10 yards to my front. He probably had some paperwork to deal with or something. He then glanced my way. We made eye contact. Then he raised his fist in the air.

Isn’t nonverbal communication amazing? Not a word was exchanged, but I got the message as clearly as if he had shouted it across the floor. “Be strong, man! I’m right here.” I raised my thumb about chest high. “You’re right. I got this.” His arm still raised, his fist changed to a thumb up. “All right then.” A simple gesture, but so appreciated by this scaredy-cat! I kind of wish we live down the block from Demetrius for an occasional 3-minute refresher course in calm upbeat living.

So from my experience, Saint John’s Cancer Institute does have a team approach to patient care. A team is made of individuals who bring individual talents to the group effort to reach a goal. Keep up the good fight and know it has been a privilege to meet these two gentlemen.

What to Do if you are Concerned about Skin Cancer

If you are concerned about your skin or have one or more risk factors for skin cancer, it is important to see your doctor (usually a dermatologist). Your doctor can perform a skin cancer screening and evaluate if you need further treatment. You can schedule an appointment for skin screening here.

If treatment is indicated, rest assured. Numerous clinical trials at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute have developed less invasive surgery for the treatment of melanoma. Our leading-edge melanoma treatment approaches provide personalized care and support services to help you improve your skin health and wellness.

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About the Author

Fariba Ahdoot

Fariba Ahdoot is the Marketing Manager, Website and Digital Strategy, at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. She interviews the physicians and researchers to provide useful content for patients, caregivers, and the community.