Do you feel that your students like you and your classes?
Indirectly, from surveys and such, I
am often considered a guy who thinks it’s fun to teach…I often get given
ridiculous prizes. I’ve already been voted the worst dressed professor in the
school of medicine and they gave me a voucher to go shopping (he laughs
). I have no reason to complain
about the rewards I have enjoyed as a teacher with regard to how my students
have rated me. We’ve been doing anonymous surveys with students for years; I’ve
always felt they should be done. Somewhere around 20 years ago we got a survey
that was really positive, saying that we were serious, that we were doing our
job, that the classes were well structured, but there was one complaint: «
professor Sobrinho Simões, who everybody says knows so much, gives some really
weak classes» (he laughs
) and I did a
slide. My great aspiration is that people understand and, therefore, I don’t do
very complex slides. I believe that I have played some role in a
demystification that there was in Portugal concerning what cancer was. What
people were saying about cancer and how they were saying it, exactly because I
can explain things in simple terms.
And in this case, in the fight against cancer…
Which people find frightening,
because of the psychological side, not for the reality. In spite of everything,
we die less from cancer than we do from strokes, which is staggering. Look,
cancer is on the increase in Portugal, as it is on the increase in the world,
but we are dying less from cancer. Already we treat more, we diagnose earlier,
we are more efficient. We are as good as the other countries of Western Europe.
Mortality has already gone down. Note that we are now going from 50,000 new
cases a year to 60,000 and mortality has remained at around 25,000 or lower. If
you look, if this were 25,000 of 60,000, this already means that we already
control much more than half, which is really good.
But are we controlling too much? You’ve even said that
there are cancers that should be left in peace.
Yes, but that is another matter. You
need to be very careful because I am very much in favour of prevention and of
early diagnosis by screening. But it’s not the same thing to screen a person of
40, 50 or 60 years, or to start to screen the elderly of 80 or 90.
Isn’t it worth it?
It is, but you have to be sensible
about this. In the majority of cases when, in an elderly person, of more than
80 years or 85, we find small tumours; it’s not even worth calling them micro
cancers, because they’re not going to cause any trouble. However, it’s indecent
to remove the prostate of an 85-year-old man because he has two or three micro
tumours and he was going to die of natural causes before having any problems
with them. Anyone who says this says the same about the thyroid gland. There
are many tiny nodules on the thyroid gland that there is no point in removing,
for goodness sake!
Do you think that you have helped society to
understand that cancer is bad but that it can end up being a race you can win?
Yes, cancer is controllable, and for
this reason I think I have, but this in my small world and because we have very
good people. I have people working with me that are already much better at me
in diagnosing many kinds of cancer. In every cancer I diagnose I say that it
won’t be cancer before another ten cases. The benign to malign ratio for the
thyroid gland is ten to one, therefore I don’t just diagnose cancer; in ten
people I diagnose one cancer that needs to be treated and nine people I
reassure, because I tell they don’t have cancer. Diagnosing cancer, in spite of
everything, is an exception with regard to the non cancer diagnoses we make. Does
that make sense? And for me it’s very good. I never liked being a doctor
because I feel really bad for the patients. I have people in my family who are oncologists
and at a given time they have to tell people that that they have a disease that
could potentially kill them. This disgraced me. I never liked seeing sick
people and I really like to give good news.
Would you like to leave your mark?
For me teaching is by far my most
rewarding activity. I find much more reward in teaching, with medicine
students, with interns and pathologists, than I do in research alone, or
Because it has a greater yield?
Much greater and is very important
from the point of view of future effects.
Because it leaves a work?
Because it leaves people.
Which is something you like?
It’s the think I most like doing. There
the sadness of confirming malign cancers is reduced. I do diagnostics and train
people in diagnostics. This is the funniest thing there is in terms of anyone
who likes to leave a memory, because it is the memory of people. I find it very
funny to write papers. I really like to be quoted, these mundane vanities (he laughs). But the papers die, they
have a life span. The people you teach remain.
This thing about memories means that you like taking
No, no I don’t. I like to memorise.
But then you can’t memorise everything...
No… And, then, I find it really
funny that when I’m sent photos I reconstruct that memory. But I don’t take
photographs. I don’t have any gadgets; if I did, I’d lose them. It’s bad enough
with my glasses and my tablet. Photography is predatory, but at the same time
it fixes the memory. I use this a lot today when I want to write things about
my grandfather from Arouca or about my grandmother from Bombarral and I go and
look for photographs in my mother’s albums. And from the photographs I remember
situations. I think it’s really nice, but my life doesn’t allow me such things.
Looking back at your life, and as someone who has won so many awards,
who got such high marks and who is so used to success, what do you feel you
deserve to have failed in?
In many things. Firstly in anger
management. It is unacceptable for a guy of my age, an adult, to lose his head
when he is faced with a setback. I don’t like to be defeated and I don’t like
to do stupid things. I cope really badly with my failures. The first thing I
would give myself a bad mark in would be my inability to be sensible and polite
when faced with a major setback. The other one I have is that I am highly
efficient in day-to-day matters, I do so many things, I ruin peoples’ lives, I
am very selfish, people around me work themselves to death, it’s frightening.
Because I am then a steamroller, this is another bad aspect I have. Another
which my family often accuses me of is that I do so many things. For my
generation, I helped a lot more in the home than my colleagues. I laid the
table and cleared the table and filled the dishwasher, etc. I would have my
children once a week and I never left them with my parents or my
parents-in-law. I would give them their dinner, bathe them. I would often
switch their pyjamas by mistake, poor things. My daughter would cry a lot
because she didn’t have the things she wanted because I didn’t know what dress
she wanted to take, but I did all of this with little emotional involvement.
Meaning that I remember very little of my children when they were little, I
barely remember the houses I lived in. It doesn’t make any sense, I’m ashamed
of this. People like me, who do many things and have many small successes and
who knows what, do so at the expense of very great efficiency, total
accountability – I didn’t annoy people, I didn’t shirk my responsibilities –,
but there is no emotional involvement. I would be changing the children’s
nappies, while thinking about other things. I only find my children fun from
the moment in which I start interacting with them as adults. Then I always
loved – because my wife didn’t want to go abroad with me, because I work a lot
– the fact that they started to come with me. And I had trips all over the
world with my children, but it’s when they were already counterparts. I don’t
find little children at all fun. This is something negative (he laughs). If I were to have an
emotional connection this would probably take away my ability to do more and do
it quicker. It’s a limitation and I always feel this with my children.
very lucky in as much as having a positive repercussion nationally»