A lighter look at cancer

Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dr Rajiv Samant and his cartoon self
Dr. Rajiv Samant and his cartoon self, as illustrated by Joe Ollman

By Mike Foster

Dr. Rajiv Samant believes in the healing power of positive thinking – and laughter. He has seen his share of heartache in more than 25 years as a radiation oncologist. But he has also seen how patients often make humorous comments as a way of coping with their situation.

Dr. Samant, who is an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine, wanted to capture and share this lighter side of dealing with cancer. With help from writer Leah Geller, designer Sandra Green and illustrator Joe Ollman, he compiled a short book of cartoons and anecdotes, Smiles from the Clinic. It includes anonymous, but real incidents recalled from throughout his career working in Newfoundland, British Columbia, Sudbury and Ottawa, where he now works at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.

The vignettes and quotes in the 29-page book are mostly small moments of levity that helped to relieve the stress of a visit to a cancer doctor.

There was the time, for example, when he perplexed a patient by accidentally throwing their false teeth, wrapped in paper towel, into the garbage. Or when a suspicious dark mole behind another patient’s ear turned out to be chewing gum they were saving for later.

The world of cancer treatment can be very serious, and it is often patients themselves who want to lighten things up, says Dr. Samant. “They want permission to see that it is OK to laugh.”

“Patients after treatment just want to get on with their lives,” he says. “And there is a real fear among others that they can’t mention the C-word.”

Smiles from the clinic

For many years, Dr. Samant clipped and collected hundreds of medical cartoons from newspapers and magazines. He had always wanted to share his own stories and thought it would be a good retirement project, but then decided there was no time like the present.

Now he hopes the little book will help cancer patients and their families, as well as health professionals working in the field, remember the importance of humour. It’s a lesson he also passes on to medical students at uOttawa, where he teaches courses on radiation oncology and shared decision-making in cancer care.

Smiles from the Clinic, published by Motivational Press, has sold around 250 copies since it was made available on Amazon in February, he says. It was officially launched last Sunday, April 17, 2016, at an event in Ottawa.

Extracts from Smiles from the Clinic:

 “A patient in her early seventies accompanied her husband for his follow-up appointment to the cancer clinic. She was very nervous and unsure, and asked me what could happen if she and her husband took a vacation. I looked at her and said, “Well, you might have some fun.”

“A man in his seventies came to the cancer centre. He was wearing a hearing aid. I asked him if he was sexually active. “Oh yes!” he replied. “I cut the grass regularly and love to go camping.”

An illustration of an elderly couple sitting in a doctor’s office. The woman is saying ‘He’s had so many operations they should have put a zipper on his tummy.’ A thought bubble above the doctor’s head shows the man with a zipper on his chest.

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