Sep 13, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff WriterDr. Gayle Roberts has learned in his 25 years of treating cancer that it is OK to befriend patients.
"When I first started my training I was told to remain totally objective," Roberts said. "'Don't have friendships with your patients,' many said. I have learned that advice will never make sense."
Roberts is the new oncologist at Riverton Memorial Hospital where he has opened Wind River Oncology at 2100 W. Sunset Drive in Riverton.
Roberts earned his medical degree from the University of Louisville in Kentucky and completed his residency at University of Alabama hospitals and clinics in Birmingham, Ala. He worked two oncology and hematology fellowships at Fitzsimons Army Center and University of Alabama hospitals and clinics.
Roberts came to Riverton in August 2011 after learning that RMH was in need of a locum --someone who temporarily fulfills the duties of another --but by April 2012 he had decided to work for RMH as a full-time oncologist.
When Roberts began his medical training he wanted to be a rheumatologist.
"I rotated through that particular field of medicine and didn't feel the same sort of kinship I thought I would feel," Roberts said. "I was very intrigued with oncology. I realized early on that this was the field I wanted to be in, and I have stuck with it ever since."
Roberts said treating patients suffering from cancer has its ups and downs.
"Cancer is a different breed," Roberts said. "Patients who have just been told they must start fighting for their life have a different appreciation for things and ultimately want to be well and whole again."
Roberts said that in his experience, remaining totally objective is nearly impossible.
"I am often dealing with people who are hurting," Roberts said. "I develop friendships with my patients as I walk beside them through their fight of the disease, and my patients are people I really like and learn from. I often hide my tears and move on, but I will always be there for my patients."
Roberts challenges his patients with goals. A Christmas holiday with family members, a birth of a grandchild and a birthday party are examples of milestones Roberts has set for his patients.
"Once that goal is accomplished I will work with my patients to set another one," Roberts said. "When you are told you must start fighting for your life, the little things become tremendously important."
Roberts said lung cancer is the most common form of cancer. Not only is it the main killer of people today, he said, it is the main killer of people in Wyoming.
"Every time I see a young or old person lighting up a cigarette it hurts me inside," Roberts said. "People tell me all the time how difficult it is to give up smoking, but they don't realize each time they are lighting up it is killing them."
Roberts said many people are afraid of discomfort but don't realize the things that are comfortable, such as smoking cigarettes, may cause cancer.
Roberts said he gets many calls from people asking if it is OK to drink red wine.
"I have to laugh sometimes because when they ask me this question I want to say yes, but one or two glasses is OK, not the whole bottle," Roberts said. "Everything in moderation."
Another cause for concern with Roberts is skin cancer, and he stressed the importance of wearing sunscreen whenever going outdoors.
"People in Wyoming have a disadvantage for developing skin cancer because they live in an area of higher elevation," Roberts said. "At 5,000 feet you have a 10 percent higher chance to develop skin cancer."
Roberts said he wants everyone to know sunscreen has an expiration date and needs to be thrown away after a year or else it will not work.
The goals of the new RMH oncologist are simple: to help patients with new treatment options, to practice good medicine and to expose the people of Fremont County to ideas and medications they have not previously seen.
"(I'm) willing to do whatever is necessary to help people," Roberts said. "I am a hard worker who enjoys what I do and genuinely cares for my patients."
Roberts said the hardest part of his job is having to say goodbye to some of his patients.
"There are many patients I have where treating them allowed me to get to know their family members," Roberts said. "I get close with them, they become my friends, I work on helping them, and sometimes there are moments when I have to say goodbye to them after they lose their fight with cancer. That is the most difficult part of it all."
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