When my oncologist told me about her various job offers, she laughed and reassured me that the only position that could lure her away would be a professorship named for Princess Diana. Of course I knew she was kidding.
Dr. Daniela Matei would not relocate to another institution unless doing so benefited her work as a research physician. Throughout the months of her recent negotiations, an old country song kept running through my mind: “I’ve Got Tears in My Ears (From Lyin’ on my Back in my Bed While I Cry Over You).”
For more than six years, Dr. Matei and I have been meeting regularly in a sterile cubicle equipped with two plastic chairs, a stool, an ugly poster of the stages of ovarian cancer, a computer near a sink, an assortment of labeled trashcans, and one of those hideous gynecological contraptions. Even in such an inauspicious setting, oncologists can become more than doctors if — and it is a big “if” — circumstances and temperament allow them to derail the usual power dynamics that subordinate patients to a subservient role. In doing so, they become the crowning glory, the royalty, of oncology.