Dave Burda: Can you tell us what is was?
Peter Fine: I had a little spot basically at the base of my tongue right where it goes down in the throat. And it was identified because I had a swollen lymph node in my neck when I was shaving.
Dave Burda: And that could be the sign of a cold or a flu
Peter Fine: A virus of some kind. I had just come back from Hong Kong, and I thought I picked up a virus of some kind, didn't pay attention to it, and a week later, it was still there so I called my primary-care physician and he said, ‘Well, let's do a couple of tests.' Of course, the tests identified what is was. The message there, of course, is know your own body, and when you see something that seems unusual, you should go get checked out. And it proceeded down the path of then: What do you do about it? And who does it? Who takes care of it? And the different ways of approaching it. And that's the problem with cancer. It's a very disjointed problem because cancer's a hundred different diseases.
Dave Burda: Sure.
Peter Fine: And even if you have the same one of a hundred diseases as somebody else, it doesn't mean the treatment's going to work for you.
Dave Burda: Correct.
Peter Fine: And, cause it's not personalized enough. And so you go through all the anxiety and anxiousness, but the problem with dealing with the medical environment sometimes, it's very disjointed. It's not coordinated. It's not organized. And the patient has to take significant responsibility for their own well-being. And my advice to people is: Ask a lot of questions. And don't be afraid to ask questions. It's your life. It's your body. And you deserve the kind of answers that you're looking for. My other piece of advice is: People shouldn't just surf the Internet …
Dave Burda: Really.
Peter Fine: … because they get a lot of misinformation—
Dave Burda: Was that one of the first things you did?
Peter Fine: Oh, absolutely. I mean within a day of the diagnosis, I'm on the Internet trying to identify, ‘Well, what does this mean? How is it treated?' and all that. And, quite frankly, got more confusion than help.
Dave Burda: Really.
Peter Fine: And so, while the nature in this day and age in this world is to go learn on your own, you really need to do that in conjunction with your physician providing appropriate guidance, and helping you to analyze and understand some of the things you're hearing and some of the things you're learning. But it becomes very traumatic on people, and you need, in many cases, somebody to help you get through all of this. I don't think I could have gotten through what I went through without my wife right by my side because I needed somebody to push me. Because it is very easy to say, ‘I'm just going to curl up on the couch in the fetal position and just lay there.'
Dave Burda: And give up. Sure.
Peter Fine: And you do. You get to that point. Is it worth it? The treatment is very, very harsh at times, and so it's easy to just give up on the process.
Dave Burda: Now how did you—did you take a leave of absence? Did you stay on the job? How did that manifest itself and how you ran Banner during that period?
Peter Fine: Well, I'm a little bit of a Type A. And, so, for me it was necessary for me to figure out how to keep leading the organization working partly because I felt I needed to and partly because, psychologically, it was the way for me to manage the process. At the early stages, I was intending to be very secretive, not communicate this and take some time off, that kind of thing, and not be very informative. But some of my executives in the organization, especially my public relation executive, Bill Byron, and my wife, Rebecca, both said, ‘That's not you.' So what you need to do is go public, and so I went public in the very early stages of this—once I started treatment. And when you start losing your hair and you go bald through the treatment, it all comes with that, you look a whole lot different.
Dave Burda: Now did you send out a memo, an all-staff memo—
Peter Fine: I communicated it through our means of communication, both written and electronically, in the organization. Very upfront about it—exactly what was going on. And began then to continue the process of leading along the way. Periodically, I'd give updates and pictures of myself with a smile on my face and a bald head. And communicating how I'm handling it. Through the treatment of chemotherapy was managed very well. I would come into work virtually every day. There were points in time in the treatment when your white blood-cell count goes down to nothing and you really shouldn't be around people too much. So for two or three days in every three-week cycle, I would not be in the office and try to work at home. The problem with a lot of these treatments is the side effects are enormous, and they're not one or two side effects. There are a half-a-dozen or dozen side effects all hitting you at the same time. So you're managing the process. And that fit right into, quite frankly, my sweet spot because it taught me how to apply my management skills to managing a difficult health problem.
Dave Burda: Oh, interesting.
Peter Fine: And I actually wrote an article about that that was recently published in Healthcare Executive magazine of the American College of Healthcare Executives. And trying to write an article that would help other executives if they had this unfortunate problem to learn how you can actually use your management skills to manage a healthcare problem. And I had to do that not only through my chemotherapy process but also through my process of radiation therapy, which was a little bit tougher for me than the other parts of it.
Dave Burda: Was that sort of like staying on a schedule when you talk about managing your illness. How did that work?
Peter Fine: Well, for radiation therapy as an example, I had three things to worry about: How to get calories in my body, grams of protein and ounces of fluid because the radiation was in an area that was very sensitive and destructive, so I basically was losing the ability to eat. And so I had to manage that because I had to be on a cycle. And so scheduling, organizing your day around certain things, recognizing when certain things were going to occur during these cycles of either chemotherapy or radiation therapy, managing your time and then creating a plan. So I always use a term around Banner: ‘Plan to work and work to plan.' And so at the very early stages of this working with the doctors, I said, ‘OK, what is the plan?' So we planned basically six months' worth of activities out.
Dave Burda: Interesting.
Peter Fine: And written down, and then I just organized my lifecycle and my work activities around this plan. So applying some of those techniques—probably one of the key terms that I use around our organization all the time and I have for 10 years is misery is optional. It's a choice. It doesn't matter what's going on with you. You can either let it affect you negatively or you could say it's not me, and what I recognized is cancer wasn't the definition of who I was, so therefore I wasn't going to let the misery of the process of treatment affect who I really was, and worked hard to try to not let it negatively impact me as I was trying to lead the organization through a period of time that I was being affected by this—by this healthcare situation. It went well. I'm over two years out from treatment. Doing very well. No recurrence.
Dave Burda: That's great.
Peter Fine: And get through three more years of no occurrence and I'm good to go.
Dave Burda: Well, we wish you continued good health and we really appreciate you sharing your personal story with us as well as comments on information technology and restructuring for reform. So Peter, we really appreciate it. Thank you.
Peter Fine: Very good. Thank you.
Dave Burda: Thanks for watching. I'm Dave Burda for Modern Healthcare.