Quality Helps Kick Cancer

Tools can help monitor health during cancer battle

by Russell L. Roberson

For more on this article, listen to an interview with Russell L. Roberson.

As a quality professional, I can’t help but look for ways to use quality tools in anything from correction to prevention, from work to everyday life. I have two examples of how quality tools and processes can help people overcome life-changing challenges. In my case, I believe these quality tools helped save my life.

In stressful times, having a strategy and following a process is critical. I have had cancer twice—the first time was in 1991, and the second was in 2006. Although each diagnosis was incredibly difficult for me and my family, I leveraged the basic strategies I apply to improving and sustaining quality processes to help me plan my battle with cancer.

Strategic play: cancer creed

My first step was to develop a cancer creed (see sidebar, "Cancer Creed"). This strategy allowed me to focus my efforts on where I could perform best. It also allowed those on my caregiver team to work and focus in areas where they could perform at their best. This strategy helped everyone work to his or her strengths and also helped me stay focused on my role: surviving the cancer.

Cancer Creed 

  • I believe no action on my part—physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual—caused my cancer. I accept no responsibility for being the cause of this cancer. I believe there isn’t a logical reason for my cancer, so I will not waste my time searching for a reason why I have cancer.
  • I believe I will become a better person by experiencing the cancer journey, but I also believe I don’t need to have cancer to constantly improve my worth to my family, society or myself.
  • I believe I am not any more important—or less important—a person because I have cancer. I am the same person now as I was before cancer, and I will be the same person after cancer.
  • I believe I will beat the cancer that has invaded my body, and I will do so in a dignified manner. This cancer attacks my family, friends and me. I will not let such an unworthy opponent affect my family, friends or me physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually.
  • I believe in my medical team’s abilities to care for my physical body, my family’s and friends’ support to care for me emotionally, myself to care for me intellectually and God’s power to care for me spiritually.

Additionally, I modified my professional quality leadership principles into 10 principles for surviving cancer. In general, the italicized text of the cancer survival principles fit my 10 principles for quality leadership.

These principles are deceptively simple, and they were critical to my well-being. The principles state, as a cancer patient:

  1. Never lose sight that you are part of a global community. A cancer patient is not any more important than anyone else.
  2. Make sure the treatment plan is something you can understand and can be implemented.
  3. Understand the rules that govern cancer and the cancer treatment. Do not focus time or effort on trying to work around established systems or on unrealistic outcomes.
  4. Develop an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of cancer medicines.
  5. Take the time to understand the complexity of the cancer and the cancer treatments. Do not kid yourself. Prepare yourself for a difficult journey.
  6. Take proper actions in a timely manner, such as notifying your medical team about physical and emotional abnormalities. Early information is critical to your caregivers—during treatment is not the time to keep secrets or be embarrassed.
  7. Use the cancer experience to teach others the importance of life.
  8. Look for signs in your body and mind continuously. Watch for anything that could affect your immune system.
  9. Use the cancer journey to grow as an individual. Select a specific trait to improve on and then make that improvement.
  10. Understand that not all individuals, family members and friends will be able to accept the reality of the cancer. Learn to forgive others when they do not live up to your expectations of support during this most difficult time.

Using process management

Managing my treatment with a quality process was a constant reminder of the importance of simplicity. With simplicity came a crystal-clear focus on what was important and what was not.

My 10-point process and cancer creed not only provided security for me, but also for my doctors, nurses and caregivers. I was able to ask better questions and understand the answers at a deeper level.

It also helped me focus on the important areas without missing critical information. Additionally, having a process to follow helped me identify what would be the end point in a lengthy journey.

There is so much more to beating cancer than just developing a strategy. Beating cancer requires having the right doctors and caregivers, a body that is healthy enough to withstand the treatments to expel the cancer and a bit of good fortune. Yet, having a strategy and a process for the journey certainly helps.

It is my sincere hope that the strategy I provided in this article will help you or someone you know if they are faced with their own cancer journey.


This column is based on Roberson’s book, Cancer: A Journey of Dignity and Honor, CreateSpace, 2010.

Russell L. Roberson is the vice president of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at GE Healthcare IT in Barrington, IL. He is also an adjunct graduate-level professor at several universities. Roberson earned a doctorate in business management from Argosy University in Sarasota, FL. He is a senior member of ASQ and is an ASQ-certified software quality engineer, manager, auditor-biomedial, auditor, engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt.

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