I received a letter this past week from Dr. Neil M. Barth stating that he would be closing his practice to focus on applying his medical training and clinical expertise in areas of science that have the potential to further his passion for personalized medicine for patients with cancer.
I was saddened to learn that my doctor would no longer be there to tell me I am doing great and to treat me should the awful disease of colon cancer re-visit my body. But as I reflect on the day I first met Dr. Barth, I realize how far I have come in the life I have had since treatment.
Two things come to mind immediately as I write: The first is that when I was first diagnosed in 1999, I was truly unable to tell many people that I had cancer because at that time most everyone thought you would die, and it was a career killer if it got around that you were sick. So I suffered in silence telling only immediate family, three friends, and my school board. I would need to be off work for four months during treatment and an interim superintendent would need to be appointed.
We know so much more about cancer now, and people are aware that in many cases cancer treatment is effective and people can and do return to their normal lives once it’s over. We also know that some cancers can only be controlled and that some indeed do take your life no matter what you do. We can talk about it more openly, and there are some safeguards in the workplace that help people stay employed while fighting the disease.
The second thing I learned is how important early intervention and treatment are, as well as selecting the best physician you can find. It will be one of the most important relationships of your life, and a key to your success in getting through it. My mother found Dr. Barth by talking to her next-door neighbor about me. Do your homework, and grassroots connections not only work for improving the city, but also may save your life well.
Dr. Barth has served thousands of patients in our community and many who drove from other cities and parts of the state for his care. This is a tribute to Dr. Barth for doing his best throughout his career to help people get their lives back.
As I would return for follow-up visits the next few years I realized the weight of all the patients Dr. Barth had on him on a daily basis. It was hard on me to see the patients as I walked through for my visits. Oncology is a difficult profession.
Dr. Barth, I wish you the best in your next chapter. I had a chance to finish my career as a school superintendent and I am fully integrated into my community, traveling, writing, and supporting others through cancer treatment when needed, because you diagnosed and treated me with the best model out there at the time, chemo and radiation.
I will never forget your standard outfit – white lab coat, tan Dockers pants, brown shined loafer shoes, tasteful ties, with patient chart in hand and stethoscope draped round your neck. I can only hope you do not remember me in the same gray sweats, too tired and frail to pull an outfit together.
You were not only a great doctor but also mature, strong and a straightforward guy. As I was complaining about being so sick during treatment you told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to stop, because there were patients in the office that were far sicker than me. I did not get mad or think you were unkind, you were right.
I was lucky because the treatment was working and I was going to get better once I completed it. Others would not be so lucky, as I learned over the six long months of my treatment.
You had an outstanding nursing staff working in the office to support all of us through our treatment plans. I thank all of them, including the schedulers, for their care – because the job is a tough one and we needed them so desperately both emotionally and physically.
Thank you for caring and making such a profound impact on so many lives. I look forward to the work you will do to improve cancer care. Thanks to you and many other fine doctors, there is life after the chemo chair and radiation room.