This month I’m on “Hem/Onc,” aka Hematology and Oncology aka blood disorders and cancer. A long, long time ago I really thought I wanted to go into Pediatric Oncology. I slowly realized I didn’t want to work with kids or be depressed all the time. But, surprisingly, I’m loving this rotation!
Hem/Onc is an interesting specialty because you get to form some really amazing relationships with patients. Cancer survivors are eternally grateful to their oncologists, and their follow-up visits are very exciting times for both the patient and the physician. I’ve never received so many gifts from patients in my life!
And some of these patients have the most amazing stories. Just yesterday I spent over half an hour talking to a woman finishing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She had formed bonds with all the nurses and patients on her inpatient floor. But she was oh-so-excited to get to return to her home, which she hasn’t been back to in over six months! She had her bags packed and just wanted to “okay” from her oncologist to leave the hospital. She had such a sense of humor and joy about life…it was almost infectious!
But not every patient is a success story. I’ve seen many patients who walk into the room and are clearly dying. They are wasting away. Many of them weigh less than I do and are just struggling through chemotherapy because if they stop, they will die. And that is hard to handle for me. Especially when they come with their spouses or children, and it’s very clear they have something to live for.
I think I could be happy being an oncologist. As my attending tells me every day, “It takes a special person.” But despite his persistence in telling me I need to be an oncologist, I really don’t think that will end up happening. I love talking with patients and listening to their stories, and Hem/Onc is a great specialty for that. But my heart drops every time I review the most recent imaging and see new metastases or growth of a tumor. I hate delivery bad news to patients, especially when they’re so hopeful for a cure.
God bless all the Hem/Onc doctors out there because it isn’t an easy job. Not only does it require a vast knowledge about cancers of the entire body and complex chemotherapy drugs, it requires a big heart and a lot of guts. It’s difficult to tell someone they have cancer. It’s even harder to tell someone they’re going to die. But somehow they do it, again and again, every day. Wow.
I hug my husband and my daughter a little tighter when I get home these days. If nothing else, this month has been a good reminder of how much I take for granted. Here’s are a few new pictures of my little girl – 19 months old and I can’t believe how big she is getting!