We admire our colleagues who design brilliant trials that change treatment paradigms, and we also need to have personal heroes who inspire and remind us of what is so meaningful about oncology practice.
—Lidia Schapira, MD
The popular Art of Oncology (AOO) section of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) brings a human perspective to the art and science of practicing oncology. Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, became the Art of Oncology Editor in November 2013, following in the footsteps of previous AOO Editors Charles L. Loprinzi, MD, FASCO, and David P. Steensma, MD, FACP.
Building a Stronger Community
Why is it important for JCO to feature Art of Oncology?
Years ago I remember a colleague told me that she first opens the
Journal to Art of Oncology. It is the soul of JCO. It provides a virtual meeting place for oncologists to share experiences or voice their doubts and concerns. Personal essays can have a tremendous impact on readers, leading some to question their assumptions or even make important changes in their practice.
What made you interested in the role of editor for AOO?
I absolutely love this section of the journal and am keen to invite colleagues and patients from all over the world to contribute their reflections in order to expand our content and reach. We will build a stronger community of cancer clinicians if we share our experiences—in the same way that researchers share laboratory data and novel observations.
I am indebted to Drs. Charles Loprinzi and David Steensma for sharing their clear vision for AOO and for their friendship and mentorship. Charles is a brilliant physician-scientist as well as a humanist and saw the opportunity to start this separate track within the Journal. David invited “new voices,” and as a result, we saw an increase in submissions, including many essays written by residents and fellows. We are training young oncologists to be mindful and reflect on their experiences, and often writing provides a useful mechanism for reflection.
Lessons in Oncology Practice
Why do you think AOO articles are so popular?
Some readers may find the subjectivity liberating after reading scientific articles. Or perhaps they feel moved by the essayist’s sincerity or by a story that resonates with their lived experience. We admire our colleagues who design brilliant trials that change treatment paradigms, and we also need to have personal heroes who inspire and remind us of what is so meaningful about oncology practice.
Do you have a favorite piece or one that touched you the most from past AOO collections?
I was deeply moved by Dr. Steven Grunberg’s “Giving Permission” describing the house call he made to a dying patient to let her know it was her time. I still read Dr. Paulette Mehta’s “He Didn’t Have a Chance” when I feel sad or need a little encouragement to go back to the clinic. Dr. Mikkael Sekeres makes me laugh and I never want to reach the end of his essays. Dr. Romeo Bascioni’s “I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams” taught me a powerful lesson about what can be accomplished with exquisite hospice care. And Dr. Joshua Liao’s “Cancer or No Cancer” makes me feel there will be smart and caring oncologists in years to come to look after all of us.
What will be your biggest challenges as an editor?
To keep the section relevant and stimulating for readers, find new ways of inviting and inciting reflection, and encourage new writers to submit their work.
Any advice or thoughts for aspiring contributors?
We would be delighted to read your work. Give us a good story, a personal reflection, a little dose of humor, or even a poem, and I would love to know if readers feel these essays have changed the way they think of themselves or their patients. ■
Originally printed in ASCO Connection. © American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Interview with Lidia Schapira, MD, New JCO Art of Oncology Editor.” ASCO Connection, May 2014: p 54. All rights reserved.