My family and I recently went on a spaceflight.
Aboard our spacecraft, the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, with my daughter as pilot and my family as mission specialists, we ignited the engines and with a thunderous roar took off into outer space on our journey to explore the stars. All from Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
What did I really need to know about breast cancer that I learned at Space Camp?
I learned at Space Camp that spaceflight is a team project. Alan Shepard was not the first American in space. A team of dedicated specialists were the first Americans in space. Neil Armstrong did not take the first step on the moon. A team of dedicated specialists took the first step on the moon. Tom Hanks did not save Apollo 13. A team of dedicated specialists saved Apollo 13.
The fight against breast cancer, I learned at Space Camp, is similar to spaceflight. Just as spaceflight is not the work of a single astronaut, the fight against breast cancer is not the work of a single surgeon. The fight against breast cancer requires the unending efforts of a team of dedicated specialists.
As a Breast Surgical Oncologist, I am the captain of your ship, or rather the commander of your spaceship in your fight against breast cancer. While commanding the ship, I retain the big picture of your battle with breast cancer and ensure that all of the other dedicated specialists are exercising their best judgements and exerting their best efforts to heal you of your cancer.
God is the first and most important member of the team. Sometimes it takes faith that the Space Shuttle will fly, perform its missions successfully and return home safely. But it also takes action and coordination on the part of the team.
The Space Shuttle needs a commander, but the Space Shuttle also needs a pilot and mission specialists. While it is the role of the Breast Surgical Oncologist to act as commander, the specialists, the medical and radiation oncologists, the radiologists and pathologists all need to practice their art and utilize their skills to the best of their ability.
The commander is the leader who inspires everyone to work as a team and to do their best.
But there are infinitely other persons on the team. Mission control looks after the safety of the shuttle much the same way that specialty organizations, such as the American Society of Breast Surgeons and the American Society for Clinical Oncology, amongst others, evaluate data, make recommendations and offer guidance on how to best treat breast cancer.
Just as there are technicians to help the astronauts with their duties and training, nurses are indispensable professionals who deliver medications, give instruction, education and offer tender loving care. Breast cancer cannot be cured without the skill and talents of nurses.
And just as the space program has many scientists working on rocket development and space exploration, the breast cancer community has many scientists working on treatment development and cellular exploration of breast cancer in hopes of identifying targets to exploit.
I learned much at Space Camp. I just did not realize I would learn that spaceflight is very similar to treating breast cancer: It takes a leader and a whole team of dedicated specialists to complete the mission and find the cure.