PHILADELPHIA (November 27, 2023) — Four physicians from Ukraine who specialize in the treatment of cancer ended a recent visit to Fox Chase Cancer Center by discussing the challenges they faced delivering care during wartime.
The special seminar came after the four shadowed Fox Chase physicians for two weeks as they conducted clinical rounds, attended department meetings, and discussed departmental structure and best practices.
Dmytro Iskimzhy, MD, Dmytro Cherniavskyi, MD, Serhii Mykhailiuk, MD, and Viacheslav Kopetskyi, MD, described a dramatic influx of patients, coupled with more safety concerns as routines became interrupted by the need to regularly move to shelters due to bombing. Before the seminar, the four physicians were presented with Fox Chase warmup jackets to commemorate their visit.
“We get news here about what is going on in Ukraine, but it’s never quite the same as what is experienced by people who are actually living it. I was impressed by the passion for improving clinical care in cancer, particularly given everything that is going on,” Cancer Center Director Jonathan Chernoff, MD, PhD, said while introducing the physicians.
Iskimzhy, who works for the Regional Clinical Oncology Center of Kirovohrad Regional Council, discussed how their practice has changed as the war in the country has progressed. He said he has even had some patients cope with the war through “bitter humor.”
“I was doing rounds and asking standard questions like, ‘How are you feeling today?’” he said. “The response I received from one patient was, ‘Luckily I have lung cancer, so I was here yesterday and not at home.’”
The patient then showed Iskimzhy a picture of his home near the front lines, which had been destroyed in an attack while he was at the hospital being treated for his cancer.
While patients endure the challenges of a cancer diagnosis and war, Iskimzhy noted that physicians and administrators struggle with decreasing cancer drug supplies and available staff, many of whom have left the country as refugees.
In an effort to address these problems, Iskimzhy said they have moved to administering chemotherapy orally and that he personally has begun using time-saving apps and other electronic tools in place of paper records that have often been destroyed or are otherwise inaccessible. He said he created one of the apps himself in a month after teaching himself Python, a coding language.
This need for efficient record keeping was echoed by Mykhailiuk, a radiation oncologist and palliative care physician at the Clinical Center of Oncology, Hematology, Transplantology, and Palliative Care of the Cherkasy Regional Council.
“For radiation oncologists, it’s very important to know what treatment was given before, and these people who evacuate don’t have time to get documents to show what kind of treatment they’ve had. Individual approaches and phone conversations with previous doctors are what make it possible for us to treat these patients,” said Mykhailiuk.
He, along with Cherniavskyi and Kopetskyi, who work for the Ukrainian Center of Tomotherapy and the National Cancer Institute, respectively, emphasized that support from the European Union, the United States, and other countries has had a key impact on providing necessary supplies that allow for the continued treatment of patients.
“I am extremely grateful to be invited to Fox Chase. It has been a wonderful experience to connect and observe how doctors treat patients here,” said Mykhailiuk.
“We really appreciate the Pennsylvania medical community being so welcoming and responsive in its support of our nation’s resilient fight for its freedom, independence, and right to exist,” Rostyslav Semikov, MD, said after the event. “Your Liberty Bell is a great reminder that Americans were in a similar position almost 250 years ago. It is now our turn to break up with a dark colonial past to build a land of opportunity that allows for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Semikov is the founder of the Peace and Development Foundation and Audubon Bioscience, which, along with the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, made the visit possible.