Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Prescription for Hope

   I have been in two radically different worlds this past week. In one I visited a country steeped in antiquity that understands the important lessons that can be learned by the careful preservation and investigation of the past.
   In this other world, I traveled to a place that seemed bounded by the realm of possibility and a dream for the future. A world where the finest technology that man has developed in the fight against a specific disease travels side-by-side with compassion, kindness and the dispensation of hope. Where have I been in the space of one week?  I have traveled from the country of Italy to the hallways of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Both are places that will remain indelibly imprinted on my mind and heart, but for very different reasons.
   I am not unfamiliar with hospitals and medical centers. I live in a relatively large urban center (for the South), and we have a world class trauma center, a world class Children's Hospital, not to mention a world class heart center, but to enter the world of MD Anderson is to go to another planet...something seemingly out of this world.

   The sheer magnitude of the size of the complex is staggering.  More than 50 freestanding buildings in Metro Houston comprise what ranks as the world's largest free-standing cancer center. And with over 18,000 employees, 6100 trainees, and 1100 volunteers, MD Anderson has assembled a highly trained army to wage war on a terrible foe.
   Given the nature of the beast that the folks you see in the hallways are battling, you would not think to find this to be such a place of peace. Yet it is. Not only does peace reign, but kindness also abounds. Almost every staff person I met greeted me with with words, "How may I serve you?" accompanied by a smile. And wonder of wonders, it did not feel stale or obligatory, but rather heartfelt. I was amazed. Even the doctors don't duck their heads to pretend you don't exist. They look you in the eyes, smile, and more often than not, say "Hello, how are you?" Definitely not the norm.
   Over the course of the week I talked to nurses, techs, and volunteers who told me that there is a huge emphasis on patient and care-giver interaction with all levels of staff receiving continuing education about "the service, compassion, and dignity" that is to be afforded each individual.
   It shows. From the Jolly Trolly that rolls the hallways dispensing free coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade and tea to the convenient Post Office, hair salon and library stacks that are open and available to patients and care-givers alike.
   To achieve the level of service that is pervasive at MD Anderson is not accidental. It is obvious that a strategic hand has been at work. Surgical Waiting Areas are arranged around a common theme: ours were flowers. Since we were there on surgery day for twelve plus hours, we spent time in both the geranium and daffodil waiting areas. There were round tables for working puzzles or card games, along with an ample supply of current magazines as well as a lending library.  Warm blankets were offered without having to ask for them, the lighting was soft rather than harsh, and the pods were small enough that no more than three families were in each little area. There was a soft murmur of conversation as families came and went escorted by the kind and compassionate volunteers who checked in every hour to be sure that needs were met. The common battleground brought families together.  Shared stories, prayers and encouragement were the norm. Despite the gravity of each family's situation, there was a shared camaraderie. In the space of a day, we met two different families with daughters who were undergoing brain surgery for the relatively rare Cushing Disease. I now know more than I ever dreamed I would know about this disease.
  And yet. There is this intangible thread of hope that encircles all who enter this place. The finest minds, the finest technology and the finest care have all been assembled in one place to wage this war. The MD Anderson website perhaps says it best. I pray that by God's grace, they will find success.

The mission of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is to eliminate cancer in Texas, the nation, and the world through outstanding programs that integrate patient care, research and prevention, and through education for undergraduate and graduate students, trainees, professionals, employees and the public.


We shall be the premier cancer center in the world, based on the excellence of our people, our research-driven patient care and our science. We are Making Cancer History. 
Core Values

Caring: By our words and actions, we create a caring environment for everyone.

  • We are sensitive to the concerns of our patients and our co-workers.
  • We are respectful and courteous to each other at all times.
  • We promote and reward teamwork and inclusiveness.

Integrity: We work together to merit the trust of our colleagues and those we serve.

  • We hold ourselves, and each other, accountable for practicing our values.
  • We communicate frequently, honestly and openly.
  • By our actions, we create an environment of trust.

Discovery: We embrace creativity and seek new knowledge. 

  • We help each other to identify and solve problems.
  • We seek personal growth and enable others to do so.
  • We encourage learning, creativity and new ideas.

I hope you never have need of this place, but if you do you will quickly discover that MD Anderson is the best in the world. They mean what they say: Making Cancer History.


  1. Ok, you were in Houston and didnt call me? I would love to love on you. I hope you don't have to come back for a bad reason, but if you do, I can bring a pimento cheese sandwich and sweet tea!

  2. Wonderful bog on a truly phenomenal place! Loved having you here with me. We are over the mountain and by God's grace, heading back to level ground! Much love to you and many prayers sent up for your surgery next week.
    Love you!

  3. This is a comforting post. And I am amazed...


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