Striving with Humility and Grace in the New Year

By Sagar Lonial, MD, FACP - Last Updated: December 22, 2022

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

These lines, perhaps the greatest opening lines in English literature, have never felt more appropriate. The past few years have been more than a challenge for those of us in health care—especially those of us who care for patients with blood cancer—but we have learned many lessons as a consequence of those challenges. No longer do we waste our days flying halfway across the country for a two-hour meeting. However, at the same time, we also re-learned the importance of in-person meetings with friends and colleagues at large national and international meetings and how re-energizing that can be.

My year as president of the Society of Hematologic Oncology (SOHO) was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and consequently, the first virtual meeting in the history of the society. Fast forward two years to September 2022, where close to 2,000 people attended the meeting in person in Houston, Texas, learning from each other and sharing experiences. In the meantime, we learned how to continue moving hematologic oncology forward, with over a dozen new approvals collectively, despite all the staffing challenges, the great resignation, and COVID-19 isolation.

In addition to our dedication to advancing care and science, we also were able to step back from the hectic grind of travel and appreciate all that makes our teams special. It was a real joy for me to watch our health care teams rise to the challenges of patient care. Our teams put themselves at risk for the benefit of patients whose lives are in our hands. The privilege of caring for cancer patients is something I suspect many of us take for granted when we are rushing to complete our Epic notes or billing forms, but that caring was on full display at the height of each COVID-19 wave. The trust patients and their families put in us to use our knowledge and experience to try to do good during their “season of darkness” and “winter of despair” can be overwhelming, even in normal times. Amid a global pandemic, however, the job brings not only more risk, but also the satisfaction of knowing we were all doing our best with the skills we have worked so hard to acquire.

The two words that I want to leave you with, as we wrap up this year and begin to consider goals and challenges for the next one, are grace and kindness. Both are batted around a lot, especially in the context of wellness and balance but have never been more important. There are many stressors in our professional and personal lives. Grace is not just about what we do. Grace is about recognizing that even when we or others react in a way that is not optimal, we must try to understand and provide space for openness. We should take time to understand why a colleague may have reacted in a certain way and try to find common ground. This then leads to kindness, something we can all use a little more of nowadays. There is a level of fervor and discontent at the national level that is unsettling, while the financial challenges that each of our institutions bear add to our collective anxiety. It is at this time that the world can learn from what we clinicians and scientists do every day. We block out the noise and focus on what really matters: improving the lives and outcomes for our patients with blood cancers. The past two years have clearly demonstrated that we collectively as a community can continue to do important work, and I know our patients recognize that and are alive to appreciate all those efforts.

Thanks to all of you for making our first year of Blood Cancers Today such a success, and as we strive to teach, inform, and translate all the important findings in blood cancers in the future, we have you at the top of our minds. Thanks for a great year, and here’s to an even better 2023.

Sagar Lonial, MD, FACP, is Chair and Professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, the Anne and Bernard Gray Family Chair in Cancer, and Chief Medical Officer of Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

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