The word “community” can be defined as “a group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.” The patients, family members,
healthcare professionals, administrators and staff who are connected to and feel identified with the MGH Cancer Center fit this definition of community.
Although cancer care professionals and patients living with cancer are in many ways very different groups, they share common interests–bringing the best possible care and treatment to all the different types of cancer, and eradicating those cancers whenever feasible. These common interests set this community apart from the larger society, because of the insights and understanding all of these individuals bring to the challenge of cancer.
On the professional side, nurses, physicians, social workers, chaplains, art and music therapists, wellness practitioners–all of these practitioners bring unique perspectives to understanding and helping patients and families living with cancer. When cancer care is good, these professionals are working well together as a team. When cancer care works is at its best, they not only collaborate; they also develop an informed understanding and appreciation of the unique knowledge and ways of helping that professionals of other disciplines can contribute.
When we add to this rich mix the special knowledge of patients and their loved ones– the practical understanding and expertise that can only come from living with cancer– we have the beginnings of a new kind of community, one that is larger than the sum of its parts, one that brings the right knowledge to bear on the right issues at the right time. To succeed at this, we need creative ways to learn with and from each other across the boundaries that often separate patients from professionals, and professional of different disciplines from each other.
The MGH Cancer Center supports several initiatives that aim in this direction. This blog is one. The Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) is another. The Network for Patients and Families is a third. To build a robust community that nurtures new kinds of interaction and learning among all of the subgroups in his large and diverse community, we will need to strengthen these efforts.
We will also need to imagine new ones into being.