Cardiothoracic surgeon: Compassion is MD Anderson’s secret ingredient

The way I practice medicine is heavily influenced by the fact that I’m a mother. Many of the same qualities that are useful in parenting my four children — such as flexibility and perseverance — also come in handy while treating my patients.

But of all the traits that serve me well in both areas, compassion is probably the most important. Compassion is MD Anderson’s secret ingredient. It’s not just our expertise, but the way we interact with our patients and their families. Obviously, our goal is to leave people cancer-free. But we treat people the way we would want to be treated. And that makes all the difference.

The MD Anderson difference

Working at the No. 1 cancer hospital in the world is amazing. You can see that compassion and feel it in action the minute you walk through MD Anderson’s doors. There’s just something special about a place that’s focused exclusively on curing cancer.

Here, our patients have some of the world’s most talented doctors treating them — people who genuinely care about them and their families.

And these doctors aren’t simply compassionate. They’re also specialists in treating their patients’ specific type of cancer. That means patients get the right diagnosis, so that they get the right treatment for that cancer from the very beginning. And that’s important, because getting the wrong treatment can delay proper care, or even prevent them from receiving the right treatment further down the line. Through clinical trials, our patients also have access to therapies that are not otherwise available.

Patient care at MD Anderson: a team effort

I divide my time between the Texas Medical Center Campus and MD Anderson in Sugar Land. That means my patients can get specialized care close to their homes and jobs. And because MD Anderson has locations all over the city, that’s true for other patients, too.

At MD Anderson, caring for each patient is a team effort, where specialists from many different areas come together to discuss options. We all bring our individual skillsets to the table, then decide on the appropriate treatment plan as a group. So, we’re not just using our own tools, but the best tools for each individual cancer patient. And that makes every aspect of our care better than it was the day before.

My favorite part of working at MD Anderson

My favorite part of working at MD Anderson is when I get to see patients for surveillance visits and they have no new symptoms, concerns, or signs of cancer. It’s a real pleasure to be able to deliver great news to families, especially when someone is still cancer-free.

For many years, there were no substantial changes in the area of thoracic surgery, which is my specialty. Today, there are immunotherapies, targeted therapies, and other advances in the treatment of cancers of the lungs, heart, esophagus and other organs in the chest. We also have the Enhanced Recovery Program, which helps patients get back on their feet faster after surgery.

Now, I often hear how much patients’ lives have changed for the better since finishing treatment. Many have taken trips, started families or had other great experiences. Knowing that I have helped them get there is really meaningful.

Mara Antonoff, M.D., is a cardiothoracic surgeon at MD Anderson.

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