Maintaining the Passion in Compassion

Cancer Institutue

UP-PGH Cancer Institute. Photo by Dr. Christian Tagal (UP PGH Rad Onco)


It has been a while since I’ve written an article  -partly because of the work load as a Medical Oncology Fellow at the UP – Philippine General Hospital, but mainly because everytime I try to sit down in the very rare moments of peacefulness my current schedule provides me, I do not know what, why, or how to write. It is as if my endeavour in learning to battle the emperor of all maladies left my body and soul not only scourged, but empty.

I remember before I left Bacolod for fellowship, one of my dear consultants reminded me as I was about to step out of the hospital where I did my residency training, “Fred, I know that you are about to venture into a new field which will give you an abundance of new knowledge, but remember that the most important thing is that we never lose compassion. When we lose it, we lose everything. Never forget that.

I’m treating cancer patients, it’s impossible to lose compassion -these were my thoughts back then. But after long, draining days of seeing patients from different walks of life -people with different masses from different social classes, people whose tragedies became worse because of various herbal remedies, I realized that the discipline can not only lead to compassion fatigue but may even suck the life out of me -sometimes leaving me empty, but happy.

Empty because as I walk into Room 107 (our clinic), I can sense the tension of the different emotions I will be facing for the day which are mainly brought by the wrath cancer has caused an individual, not to mention the pains of parents and spouses seeing their beloved in anguish.  Empty because in filling up your own patients’ emptiness, you give a part of yourself -sometimes just enough, but more often than not, maybe a little too much.

But I guess having compassion puts in some happiness. Happy because no matter how many patients showed up at the OPD for consult, we will all be able to finish seeing them with or without their results. Happy because our patients showed up for chemo, even if looking for their charts is like finding Nemo. Happy because no matter how hungry we are while doing consults, we can always go to Norman’s area and get some chicheria. Happy because no matter how devastated our patients get every time we tell them they have a recurrence, they still feel thankful just for our mere presence. Happy because despite the emotions that we encounter on a daily basis -denial, sadness, anger, and even depression, we try our best to make them leave loaded with some hope, a renewed faith, tons of love, and most importantly, the realization that in the battle against the emperor of maladies, family is of utmost priority.

So I think this is what compassion is all about -how we react to the feeling of urgent distress in connection to another person’s agony, with the goal of helping them out through their difficulties. And as the Dalai Lama once said, “Compassion is a necessity, not a luxury.”

May it always be our prayer that we, as the guardians and warriors of health, never tire of maintaining our passion in compassion.