The Surprising Way I Make My Cancer Patients Laugh

How a simple piece of cloth takes on meaning

By: Mikkael Sekeres, MD

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Perhaps I’m in the minority of men, but I appreciate being given ties.

My kids get me ties for Father’s Day, clichéd as that may be. Their taste tends toward bright colors and animals, and I dutifully wear them to work, proudly displaying them to colleagues and patients alike, despite my wife’s entreaties to keep an extra, more subdued tie at the office that I could change into.

My patients often comment on my ties. I have one, I think intended for a lawyer, subtly patterned with tiny wolves in sheep’s clothing. When a patient notices the gag, I joke that it’s probably not what they were hoping for in an oncologist, and they laugh, breaking the tension in the room.

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Ties can be conversation starters, allowing me and my patients to talk about mundanities, before we launch into the seriousness of cancer.

Read the full New York Times column by Dr. Sekeres, Director of Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center’s Leukemia Program.

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