I believe that my patients have taught me much about how to live life. I am a radiation oncologist by training and encounter people who face death on a daily basis. When people find out what I do professionally, they tend to ask me questions such as, “Isn’t it hard emotionally to deal with cancer?,” “God bless you because I couldn’t do it,”, and “I’m so sorry,” as if I’m the one suffering from the disease.
Sometimes when strangers find out what I do, they tell me their own personal struggles with cancer, or of their family members and friends. It is a rare glimpse and insight into something so personal, something so emotional, and something so incredibly life changing.
I have yet to meet one person who has been afflicted with cancer who has not been reshaped in some form. A lot of patients ask me how I chose to do this as my career, as well as a lot of my friends and family members.
I tell them simply, seeing patients afflicted with cancer teaches me how to live.
When you see those who cannot speak due to the tubes going into their throats, cannot eat due to inflammation of their esophagus secondary to the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, those who can barely walk, secondary to being short of breath from the cancer—but who still smile, who still have glimmers of hope, and who still have the capability to fight—it makes the various and sundry struggles in my life seem miniscule.
As I listen to my patients, I learn about their struggles, their hopes, their fears, and their sense of wonder. It amazes me that most of these human beings, who have had their bodies undergo turmoil, still have the courage to take each day as it comes. Almost everyone is faced with the fear of death, however my patients are facing it head on—and this in a way teaches me the strength of the human spirit.
You see families being affected, friends being a support, and a multitude of caregivers trying to help keep the person afloat. There are fundraisers almost every weekend, charity galas trying to raise research funds, and different colored bands of hope on their wrists to spread the word of awareness. Cancer brings people together, whether by affliction, choice, or profession. Nobody is immune, everyone is affected.
Perspective changes for me every single day. Some days there is a jarring wake up call when someone I was treating succumbs to their cancer, other days there are celebrations since a patient has lived long enough to make it to their granddaughters wedding.
Everyday I learn from those I meet in clinic. I learn to hope, to fight, to have courage, and to appreciate. My patients are my teachers for how to live life—that is what I believe.
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