I will always remember this spring as a time of weddings. First (and foremost!), my daughter’s wedding in Iowa City in late May followed by weddings in June of a cousin in Florida and a nephew in Maryland. I also came upon a number of weddings during my recent visit to Romania, including a wedding procession marching down the main street in a tiny Transylvania town and weddings taking place in the Orthodox and Catholic churches of the beautifully preserved and restored fortress town of Alba Iulia.
Each of these weddings included traditional elements that followed a standard protocol for a wedding in the western world. There was a bride in a white gown holding flowers, a groom in a dark suit, and friends and family providing support. Yet in many ways, each of these weddings was unique. The actual ceremonies and receptions were each different, as were the composition of the wedding parties and the expressions on the faces of the fathers of the brides (something I noted given my recent personal experience with the role).
Each wedding followed standard protocol, yet each was unique.
In a similar way, we use standard protocol treatment for cancer, yet care for each patient is unique.
Oncologists base their decisions on how best to treat each patient by reviewing and understanding cancer research studies that evaluate, compare, and contrast different approaches. These inform the oncologist on how an approach to treatment works for a large group of patients with a given type and stage of cancer.
Yet, the oncologist also knows that each patient is unique. This uniqueness includes both the molecular makeup of a cancer and the individual goals and desires of the patient and their loved-ones. A good oncologist will use the literature to frame the treatment options for each individual patient, but make a final decision on treatment in collaboration with the patient based on the uniqueness of that patient.
For both weddings and cancer treatment, aspects of our decisions are based on the prior experience of others, while specific decisions are based on the unique needs and desires of the individual.
These very different circumstances have one other thing in common. For both weddings and cancer treatment we hope to get as close to the same fairy tale goal as possible. That is … a “happily ever after” ending.