From doctor to patient: Montreal surgeon documents his battle with cancer as tables turn

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WATCH: After undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, Dr. Philip Gordon says he's experienced life as both a doctor and patient. Global's Anne Leclair finds out how this has changed his life – Feb 13, 2018

A Montreal surgeon who spent more than 42 years treating cancer patients is now on the other side of the table. Dr. Philip Gordon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016. He has just published a missive to his colleagues to hopefully help change the way they treat their patients.

“When I received the diagnosis, I was sure that my writing career was finished,” Dr. Philip Gordon said. “It never dawned on me that I would write again.”

Gordon is a surgeon, a writer, a professor and now a patient. The director of colon and rectal surgery at McGill University is currently fighting pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed just over a year ago and has since undergone several rounds of intensive chemotherapy treatments.

“It was shocking, it was devastating and it threw me for a loop,” Gordon told Global News. “As a surgeon, you’re in control of the situation. As soon as you become a patient, you’re absolutely no longer in control.”

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The Saskatchewan native has already made a massive contribution to medicine, working for more than four decades as a surgeon, writing chapters for dozens of books and co-authoring Principles and Practice of Surgery for the Colon, Rectum and Anus, considered the gold standard guide to colorectal surgery.

But according to his peers, his latest publication as a patient is possibly his most profound piece of work. In Chemotherapy: A Senior Surgeon’s Personal Challenge, Gordon tackles his struggles with the deadly disease that he has so often treated, and the horrifying effects of treatment.

“The most debilitating side effect is the enormous fatigue,” Gordon said. “Unless you’re there, you can’t really understand it.”

His message in his missive to colleagues is simple; take more time to understand treatment options, inform patients and above all, respect their decisions.

“I think it will have a profound impact on all of us,” director of colon and rectal surgery at the Jewish General Hospital, Dr. Carol-Ann Vasilevsky, said.

His colleagues call him an inspiration and visionary. Gordon is the one who hired Vasilevsky, the first-ever female surgeon at the Jewish General Hospital.

“He was a role model for many of us when we got into the profession, the specialty, and he’s a role model for us now in how to fight valiantly against this dreaded disease,” Vasilevsky said.

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“In retrospect, I don’t think I did as good a job as I could have,” Gordon said. “There are times I would like to do some of the things over again. I’d like to spend more time maybe with the children.”

While he may have some regrets, at 75 years of age, the proud father of two and grandfather of three is determined to keep fighting and to stay focused on the future.

“I’m a gardener so I keep looking forward to the next season,” Gordon said. “Maybe I’ll plant a garden this summer, I don’t know, we’ll see, got to make it first!”