The most revealing thing that Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, a breast medical oncologist, learned during her own treatment for breast cancer was that despite having extraordinary family and medical support, she still felt very isolated.
Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy is a breast medical oncologist and professor at The Ohio State University in Columbus who sees patients but is also involved in research and clinical trials. It seems she has a part in every aspect of breast cancer research, treatment and education.
In 2016, she stepped even further into the cancer world when she received her own diagnosis of neuroendocrine breast cancer. After treatment, her tumors returned in 2019.
“I have learned to live with cancer, treatment, radiation and therapies,” Ramaswamy said in an interview with CURE®. “This has been my life. I thought I understood a lot about what patients went through before. I considered myself compassionate and considerate, but it’s difficult to understand what a patient is going through until you are in their shoes.”
The most revealing thing she learned during her own treatment was that despite having extraordinary family and medical support, she still felt very isolated.
Now, as a doctor, she tries to validate her patients’ feelings and their fear of that detachment. She encourages them to acknowledge what they’re feeling, but also to enjoy and appreciate what theyhave. She says patients with metastatic disease shouldn’t expect their family and friends to be perfect and have full understanding.
“It gets frustrating when we expect people to answer our concerns in a certain way,” Ramaswamy said. “It’s rarely going to happen. You’ll hear a lot of people say, ‘You should look on the brighter side.’ But if you let those comments, which show they don’t understand, get to you, it’ll take away your energy. Look at where the person comes from. They come from a good place.”
Even though she is well acquainted with her patients’ struggles, Ramaswamy says her own diagnosis doesn’t even pop into her head when she’s meeting with a patient. In those cases, she enjoys being an oncologist and purely professional and empathetic.
“With (metastatic) patients, there’s a frustration that we can’t cure their disease,” she said. “Thetreatments don’t work for everyone, and if they stop working, the patient carries the burden of the fear of death from cancer. This is why I wanted to start the Living Well With Advanced Breast cancer clinic in 2017. There are so many things a stage 4 patient needs to understand. We have to deal with science, new treatments and tests, but also understand nutrition, holistic well-being, role of palliative care physicians, hospice care, symptom management and end-of-life issues. It’s scary and we wanted a place that didn’t look like a doctor’s office where patients could learn and be part of a community.”
Living with cancer, seeing patients and starting a clinic is plenty to keep anyone busy, but Ramaswamystill finds time to work in research, where she has two goals. One is to ensure they’re doing clinical trials with novel therapeutic agents as well as nontherapeutic agents and looking for new interventions for symptoms.
The other is to work with scientists to help them take an idea from the lab to the clinic. Overall, she findsher work to be extraordinarily rewarding and has deep sympathy and understanding for others who live with metastatic disease.
“It’s extremely unfair to have to live with this,” Ramaswamy concluded. “There’s no point in questioning, ‘Why me?’ The good news is that there are newer and newer treatments. Reach out to comprehensive cancer centers and ask the questions to seek the best treatments. You have to learn to live with the cancer, not to be dying with it. You have to appreciate the living, seek the joy. Do you want to spend that time thinking about death or living your life to the fullest? Be engaged and live well with the cancer.”
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