Päivi Lähteenmäki is a Senior Consultant in Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Turku University Hospital (TYKS) Cancer Center in Finland and responsible for the STEP project, during which they are developing a model and methods for setting up a late follow up clinic as part of the establishment of Comprehensive Cancer Center Finland. She has also been rewarded as the Oncologist of the year 2016 in Finland.
A cancer diagnosis is frightening at any age, but especially so when the patient is a child or just a baby. In this interview Päivi sheds a light to her daily work in supporting patients and their families.
”Childhood cancer diagnoses are heartbreaking events. It’s intense for the parents when they haven’t had time to get to know their awaited baby. Our job is to find the best possible treatment plan as soon as possible. If his or her cancer requires a multiple specialty regimen, we hemato-oncologists plan the treatments together with other specialists.”
How do you handle with your emotions in your patient relationships?
”What comes to showing emotions around patients, of course I need to keep my professionalism. But when you become familiar with the patient, the grief is shared. I do sometimes have tears in my eyes on the ward rounds. In one room we might discuss about how unfair the world is. Then I take a deep breath and in the next room we talk about something else. To me it’s easier to tell about the bad news and support the family in the final stage, if I have a good, trusting relationship with them.”
What has been the most memorable moment during your career?
”It’s always wonderful to tell the good news, that we have been able to cure the cancer. Sometimes even miracles occur. I remember this little patient who was diagnosed with leukemia. After the treatments the illness came back and she received a stem cell transplant (SCT). Then the illness was in remission for about a year when it suddenly recurred. The international opinion has earlier been that if leukemia recurs after SCT, new SCT won’t be worth giving. A lot of risks are related to it and the prognosis is poor. However, this was tried in other countries, and we found a new donor, too. She received the treatments and after some infections and other problems our little patient started to recover. A month later we took control biopsy and were happy to notice that leukemia was gone and only donor cells were left. It’s been three years now and the little patient is going to school.”
How do you keep track of the patients in need of support?
“Receiving cancer treatments at an early age often causes late-effects. Many of the patients would benefit from long-term follow-up. It’s not possible that a pediatric team would continue taking care of the adults, but knowing the patient history enables a better support. Digital solutions are a big deal at supporting patients, and Kaiku Health makes it easier to communicate with them. We are continuously on the know of how our patients are doing and if they have any questions or doubts, they can contact us through Kaiku.”
“During their pediatric clinic follow-up, patients meet us once a year, so it’s quite challenging for patients to tell us if things aren’t going well with them. As the appointment time is short we have no chance to dig into puzzling questions. Kaiku helps us at getting objective information about patients’ condition and allows us to plan the follow-up better.”