It takes a special kind of doctor to be an oncologist. The hours are long, and it’s emotionally draining dealing with the burdens of a life-threatening disease and its eﬀects on patients.
Being so personal and up close with patients requires a lot of special caring in addition to medical expertise.
Dr Melissa Pietersen is a registrar in oncology in the Eastern Cape. One of the things she talks about is having to tell chemotherapy patients that they’re going to lose their hair.
Dr Pietersen says, “It’s a big thing to lose your hair. It’s part of your identity, and we need to acknowledge that loss”.
As a doctor, although she treats her patients as best she can, Dr Pietersen wanted to go the extra mile. She decided to walk in her patients’ shoes in a special way and have her hair shaved oﬀ.
“I’ve taken part in Shavathons before, but have always just sprayed my hair because I didn’t have to guts to cut it. I’m now able to tell my patients, from my own experience, that you can do this without having any hair. You can redefine yourself.”
In addition to her connection with her patients, there’s a strong history of cancer in
Dr Pietersen’s family. Most of her aunts have had cancer, and her grandmother lost the battle with the disease. This makes her very familiar with the journey.
Giving hope to cancer patients through oncology is what matters most to her.