Doris Schmitt was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and informed abruptly that she’d need surgery to remove a malignant tumor. Since then, she’s dedicated herself not only to improving patient-doctor communication but also to helping other patients live with their breast-cancer diagnoses and advancing research for new treatments.
In September 1999, Doris Schmitt sat in a Stuttgart hospital room with her husband and daughter, drinking coffee and awaiting the results of her breast biopsy. A doctor poked her head through the door and said, "Ms. Schmitt, you’re on for tomorrow." Puzzled, Ms. Schmitt asked, "On for what?" For surgery, it turned out. The tumor was malignant. A series of similarly insensitive encounters with medical professionals convinced the communications consultant and coach that something had to change.
Ms. Schmitt co-founded an initiative dedicated to improving interactions between patients and doctors. Among the straightforward recommendations for patients: Take notes. Ask questions. Ask again if you don’t understand. "Patients need information about combating and living with their disease – and good communication is a crucial part of the equation," says Ms. Schmitt, who also counsels individual patients on ensuring they get the information they need during doctor’s appointments.
In her role as patient and communications expert for doctor-patient communication, Ms. Schmitt is a frequent speaker at national and international medical conferences and also sits on the board of a German breast cancer biobank and on the scientific board of a breast cancer organization. "Both physicians and pharmaceutical companies have come a long way in understanding the importance of the patient perspective, but it has taken years of work and finding the right partners," says Ms. Schmitt.
Aware that eradicating the disease itself requires scientific research, Ms. Schmitt also advocates research for new treatments. Since 2007, she is a board member of the Patients’ Tumor Bank of Hope (PATH), a biobank that stores tumor tissues and patient data from more than 7,000 breast-cancer patients. With the tissues, researchers explore each patient’s specific genetic composition and test the effectiveness of new drugs on individual tumors. "PATH is an important scientific initiative aimed at understanding whether a woman affected by breast cancer will respond to a specific treatment," says Ms. Schmitt. "There’s still a long way to go to beat a cancer with one of the highest mortality rates in Europe, but I am convinced that by working together on many fronts, meaningful progress for patients is possible."
Breast Cancer Survivors Bank on Hope
PATH (Patients’ Tumor Bank of Hope) is a remarkable biobank created by patients for patients. Founded by breast cancer survivors in 2002, this foundation strives to support breast cancer research with its biorepository.