UW oncologist writes prescription for day off from cancer

With a simple pen and pad of paper Dr. Toby Campbell is prescribing something for patients they need in the long and sometimes difficult battle with cancer: a day off from the disease.

Campbell, who has been an oncologist at the Carbone Cancer Center for more than a decade, started hand writing prescriptions for a “cancer free weekend” following a discussion he had with a patient, Keith Kreps.

“Keith was a special guy who obviously impacted me and led me to really rethink the way I think about dying and about my care of people who are dying,” Campbell said.

Shortly before Keith’s death in August 2014 he said something to Campbell that changed him.

“He said, ‘Minutes matter. It’s exhausting,'” Campbell said. “And it made me think what would my life feel like if all of my minutes mattered?”

It gave Campbell a perspective of a need patients have that goes beyond the cancer treatments that are given to save lives.

“What they would like is a moment of normal and so now I validate that and so now I validate that and I recognize the importance of a moment of normal, a moment without the burden of cancer upon your shoulders,” Campbell said.

In a paper Campbell authored for the Journal of American Medical Association, he makes the case for not only saving patients’ lives, but also letting them live in the process. In the paper,”When Minutes Matter: Life’s 2-Minute Drill,” Campbell draws the analogy to the focus and attention teams give to the final minutes of a game.

To read Dr. Campbell’s paper, visit the JAMA website.