Dr. Robert Buckman, one of Toronto's leading cancer specialists who was known as much for his funny bone as his medical expertise, has died.
Buckman, a renowned oncologist at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital who authored 14 books and also wrote a science column for the Toronto Star, died while on a flight to Toronto from London, England, on Sunday. The cause of death is not immediately known.
He was 63.
In his life, Buckman worked with British actor-comedian John Cleese of Monty Python fame on several comedy film projects, and often spoke about the role of laughter in medicine, even in apparently grave scenarios.
In a 2006 interview with CBC's Matt Galloway, Buckman told the radio host about the time he sat with a cancer patient and fielded questions from her husband about how their lives would change during chemotherapy.
"I took it very seriously. Very, very seriously. He was saying, is there anything she ought to be eating? Any problem with alcohol?" Buckman recounted. "Then the patient's husband leans towards me and he says, 'Doctor. How about sex?' "
Buckman, seizing on the opportunity, replied: "Well! That is the best offer I've had all day. But shouldn't we wait until your wife leaves the room?"
The quip, he said, instantly neutralized the tension in the room "and it strengthened the relationship between the three of us" as the doctor, patient and her husband shared a much-needed laugh.
Buckman was born in London, England, and later taught medicine at the University of Toronto. Among his books was Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence, a guide for patients diagnosed with the disease to learn more about treatments and how they can embrace a more positive outlook.