Radiation Oncologist Benjamin Corn works with mBC patients to support their medical treatments, including conversations about bucket lists, priorities, and the power of hope
When he was 11 years old, Dr. Corn’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though his dad would survive for two more years with the disease, what Dr. Corn keenly remembers is the silence during the difficult time.
“He looked healthy, he continued to work,” he recalls. “But no one knew what to say so no one said anything.”
It was a profound lesson for Dr. Corn, particularly when, a little less than a decade later, he encountered that same unease in medical school training toward life-threatening illnesses and how to have the difficult conversations with patients as they underwent treatment.
“When it came to bereavement, there were really no tools to be found. Little in that area had changed in the years between my father’s death and when I had become a physician,” he says.
Dr. Corn’s medical career spans decades and continents and includes more than 150 scientific publications and numerous awards. He completed his medical training at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986 with a specialization in radiation oncology and currently practices at Sha’are Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
In his work, Dr. Corn notes that physicians are sometimes seduced by the promise of technology and he believes today’s medical practice needs more empathy to help chronically ill patients make the most of their remaining time. In counseling metastatic breast cancer patients, he recognizes the need to balance treatment with compassion.
“Breast cancer patients are especially well-informed,” says Dr. Corn “And I’ve found that with metastatic breast cancer, patients often do understand that they should prioritize their time. I’m big on bucket lists and helping patients decide what’s important in their lives.”
Since 2000, Dr. Corn has been the executive chairman of Life’s Door (Gisha La’Chayim in Hebrew), a non-profit organization which he co-founded with his wife who is a family therapist. Located in Jerusalem, Life’s Door focuses on helping anyone coping with serious illness. The focus is on hope and enhancing patients’ quality of life.
He leaves room, he says, for intuition – both his own and that of his patients.
“It’s important to understand that the patient often has a sense for therapeutic goals,” he says. “This includes both things like symptom relief or prevention, or psychological goals, such as coming to grips with the illness.”
With that, he jokes that he’s not relinquishing his credentials, that he still loves his work as an oncologist. But at the same he finds himself frequently circling back to what he refers to as his crusade for hope.
“As physicians, we’re working in an era of evidence-based medicine,” he says. “But I would say that it – hope – is the most instinctual trait of being human, and I try to bring that to patients.”