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  • Writer's pictureSherin K Shirazi MD FACS

How to Deliver Bad News

A frequent question I get when people first learn I am a surgeon specializing in oncology is, “How do you get used to it—giving people bad news?”

Quite frankly, the answer is that I’ve never really gotten used to it. The way I manage these situations is by considering what I myself would want to know when bad news is delivered. This drives me to deliver hard news with as much transparency and empathy as possible.

I am straightforward when explaining a diagnosis. And I never leave out a concrete plan for how my patient and I are going to tackle the disease. My goal is to allow the patients to see the road ahead accurately, along with the steps we will take to battle their cancer. One of the most important elements in overcoming a devastating diagnosis is hope. Providing an empowering plan of action allows patients to move forward through the treatment path that will put this disease far behind them.

When cancer is caught early, it allows me to provide a variety of options aimed at accomplishing a cure. When the disease is more advanced, these options shrink. However, I am fortunate to work with top-notch colleagues focused on curing even advanced cancers. With the help of these professionals, we can create an individualized, multidisciplinary treatment plan using surgery, chemotherapy and radiation focused on an effective cure, while causing as little disruption to our patient’s quality of life as possible. In the case that a cure cannot be found, our aim is to control the disease and allow our patients to live well and enjoy daily life without pain.

In any situation, our focus is to progress toward a positive outcome—one manageable step at a time.

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