The Face Of Cancer In Turkey Is Familiar

By

Leonard Zwelling

It is striking how little it changes. The face of a child with cancer is the same in Turkey as it is in the U.S.

Professor Rejin Kebudi, the chief of pediatric oncology at the Istanbul University Oncology Institute, had invited Dr. Kleinerman to give a talk on osteosarcoma on May 8. Genie did just that with her usual polish and flare taking a series of excellent questions from the gathered group of the institute, medical, surgical, radiation and pediatric oncologists and their staff members. Then we took the tour.

I had a flashback to Duke Hospital circa 1973 when I was an intern. The clinics and hospital wards were old and weathered. The medicine being delivered was modern with lines of patients hooked to lines of intravenous chemotherapy. The staff was attentive and clearly very dedicated. They all were working as a well-oiled team trying to deliver the best care possible under less than American cancer center conditions in the largest city in Turkey.

It was the patients who moved me.

This is a public hospital. The care is provided and paid for by the government. No one is turned away including any of the millions of Syrian refuges who have flocked to Turkey fleeing the conflict in their own country. The children looked the same as those at Anderson. Some were quiet. Some were playing. All were accompanied by a concerned mother and the occasional father. Almost every mother wore the hijab, which is a much higher percentage than would be seen on a common Istanbul street where the full gamut of Islamic dress is on display from bare head to hijab to burka.

There was a small playroom on the in-patient floor of only twelve beds. All the beds were full. The playroom was empty. Some of the children were very sick and all were getting or about to get chemotherapy. The out-patient clinic was very small, but the larger playroom for the non-treated patients was bright and happy with a great deal of coloring going on and a teacher keeping things under control. Again, every child had a parent near-by.

We also walked through the adult oncology service and I noticed the faces I had come to know well when I cared for the sick. The faces of the adults in Turkey are the same ones I had come to know in Bethesda, Maryland and Durham, NC and Houston, Texas.

Dr. Kebudi has done a sensational job putting together a dedicated team of caregivers in service to the most needy of Istanbul. Interestingly, after her full day here, she also has a private practice where she attends to those who can pay for their medical care and choose to be treated at private facilities.

Turkey seems to be country on the move and on the mend. The medical facilities we saw were not those of a major cancer center in Texas, but they are of one in Istanbul. The care though is the same—patients and families first.

It is a curious place at which we have spent a few days. It is modern with a face toward the future, but still with a great and ancient history that affects the people here today. This is a very friendly place and we certainly felt safe every place we went. I suspect that the political climate has mellowed. Elections are taking place on June 24, but most expect no great changes. There are still many political prisoners and an underlying tension that colors conversations, but it feels like things are on the right track again.

Given the vast potential of these talented people and the industrious nature of the medical community, I am hopeful that Turkey’s best days are ahead of her.

Leonard Zwelling