A Conversation with Dr. Charles Mateskon
Radiation Oncology is the medical specialty involving the treatment of cancer with ionizing radiation (also called radiotherapy or radiation therapy). Charles Mateskon, M.D., became the Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Sky Ridge Medical Center in November 2008. In the following interview, Dr. Mateskon shares why he loves his job.
Q. Why did you pursue radiation oncology as your specialty?
A. As a medical student, I considered becoming a medical oncologist (medical oncologists diagnose and treat cancer patients using drug therapies, not radiation). I was fortunate to have been able to work with a truly wonderful radiation oncologist while I was a resident, and that experience influenced me a great deal. I am most happy with my choice to become a radiation oncologist.
Q. Tell me about your practice and your role at Sky Ridge.
A. I treat adults with a wide range of cancers – lung, breast, colon, lymphoma, head and neck, dermatological cancers and many more. Patients come from a number of sources – a number from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (of which my practice is a part), and some who may have received treatment at other area hospitals, but live in this area and want a convenient location for radiation therapy. Many specialists in the region refer patients for treatment here because Sky Ridge has radiation oncologists present full time and has an expansive program.
Q. What do you value most about working with your patients?
A. My patients are the reason I do this. They are wonderful people with many needs, both emotional and medical. We strive to meet those needs by giving them excellent, compassionate care and high quality treatments. Even if we don't achieve a cure, I feel we provide emotional and physical comfort to make each patient's path easier.
Q. What are your greatest challenges as a physician treating cancer patients?
A. Our greatest challenge is to improve on both length and quality of life for our patients. We like to think we can help everyone, but in fact we can't cure every person. Cancer includes many diseases that can do unpredictable things; I work very hard to do everything I can to help, but sometimes the cancer wins.
Q. What advantages does Sky Ridge offer to cancer patients?
A. Patient care is our primary goal. We have an extraordinary, inter-disciplinary team that is an advocate for the patient. Aside from the depth of our medical team, we have created a soothing, healing environment in the Cancer Center as well as on our inpatient floor to help our patients through this challenging time. Our Cancer Care book provides our newly diagnosed patients with a wealth of information and support as they start treatment. In addition, we offer a complimentary cancer massage program, support groups, a cancer exercise program, lymphedema program and a volunteer program with survivors who offer reassurance and answer questions as only they can. I am quite proud of the depth of both the medical and emotional expertise that the Sky Ridge team offers.
Q. In your view, what will be the next important advances in radiation oncology?
A. To successfully treat a patient with cancer, we do everything we can to minimize side effects while maximizing the treatment of the tumor. Advances on the horizon will help us focus the radiation beam more precisely and avoid normal tissue. Sky Ridge will be soon be upgrading to a new treatment planning computer system, which will improve our ability to better target tumors during treatment. On-site PET imaging will also begin soon, and these scans will help to define the tumor more precisely. We can use the treatment planning system and the PET scan to design our radiation treatment fields.
Q. Is there anything you would like to communicate to your patients or their families that you don't usually get the opportunity to share?
A. I feel that the patients are in charge. I am here to serve them. We try to accommodate the patient's schedule, so it is convenient for him or her, rather than the other way around. I want to be there to make my patients' journey through cancer easier, and to make sure their needs are met. As part of meeting their needs, I try to maintain a sense of humor – not to be inappropriate, but because laughter is an important component of healing. Cancer treatment is not just about putting up with pain and suffering, it should be about living and enjoying life even if you happen to have cancer.