Mission Of My Medicine: The Chemo Sessions
I became a medical oncologist because I've always felt there was more to taking care of cancer patients than just ordering tests, devising treatment plans, pushing chemotherapy, comparing CT scans, and giving bad news to people. I wanted to help patients feel better using the wisdom of their body and mind to reduce stress during treatments in the present moment.
I believe that music and laughter bring people together faster than just about anything. It's sustenance for your quality of life. A song that touches you, inspires you, AND makes you laugh - that's a recipe for plain ole feeling good. I just needed to find the right chef. I discovered who Peter Himmelman was while I was in medical school in Philly. I used to study with WXPN on and have been saying, "When some new Himmelman tunes coming out?" ever since.
During the trials and tribulations of cramming all-nighters, followed by the no-sleep abuse of internship, at times it was hard to imagine why I ever wanted to become a doctor in the first place. The bright-eyed vision of what was possible in cancer care was fading. I was always looking for inspiration from music. You know, the kind of song that could reach down to your guts and speak to your heart when circumstances were rough. One song became my "Himmelcratic Oath" to keep my vision - my mission - afloat during those middle of the night shifts.
"When you need me, I'll stand beside you" (even at 3:30am)
"I'm there for you wherever you go" (even if it's to heaven)
"When you're hungry, I'll satisfy you" (starving to get well again)
"That's the mission of my soul" (bring music and laughter to cancer patients!)
Those words and music filled me with an exhilaration to follow my purpose and keep on keeping on. Toward the end of residency, I had the unique privilege of being called up on stage along with a few other guys by Peter at the Tin Angel. I brought my didgeridoo to the show because I had heard that "spontaneous jams have been known to occur." What followed was a psychedelic encounter that would be forever fondly remembered as "The Charles Nelson Reilly Experience." I think I played the eucalyptus off that thing.
Nowadays, I'm that practicing oncologist down yonder in San Diego that I envisioned all those years ago. The Mission of My Soul is unfolding before me with each human being that I have the opportunity to help and guide on their journey through cancer. I try to channel Peter's wit, humor and passion when we play the chemo sessions. The patients soon found out that I'm a struggling singer-songwriter trapped in a physician's white coat.
Ever since the CNRE, I knew that I had no choice but to get out there in front of patients and try to make them smile during a particularly hard day, hour, or moment. Perhaps I could riff a few lines about finishing a session of chemo…and only eating Jell-o. The best news I think I ever heard as a doctor was after we finished playing the very first "chemo concert" in the treatment room in front of all the patients hooked up to their IV's. "I forgot I was getting the chemo for awhile." "I felt like a normal person hanging out." "It was just fun." Maybe I nourished a soul. After all, that's my mission. I imagined Peter would be proud.
Dr. Steven G. Eisenberg
August 2, 2008
San Diego, California