I have been asked by various blog readers of late about my interest in oncology and why on earth I chose it as my specialty of choice. I have written before about how much I love Palliative Medicine, dislike surgery and all that good stuff, but never the specifics on the whole oncology thing.
Thinking back, it seems silly that I have never written on the issue. I think part of it has to do with me being in the midst of the CaRMS (residency selection) process when I started blogging and I needed to tell everyone about it in the real world. Another piece is that the story is rather complicated and has a lot of back story and honestly, I am not sure how far to go back. And I glossed over it in my CaRMS explanation because it just feels too personal and too cliche. I picked some key incidents, but seriously, some of them make for posts of their own, which will likely appear in the future with further explanation.
To get the full context, I am taking you back to when I was a kid and my Aunt (the one I always say I am just like) was just diagnosed with lymphoma. 6 year olds don’t get much except that someone is sick. And she was always sick. Over the next couple of years I learned about chemo. I learned that people on chemo lose their hair and their nails and get very sick. I learned that you can become immunocompromised. In my head at 7, this meant that you, even as a grown up could get chicken pox. And that is bad. I saw the inside of the chemo room. I tagged along to doctor’s appointments. I learned how to go into isolation rooms. I understood the word coma. Things that no kid should ever have to learn about. But, to me, that was normal.
She died when I was 8 and ½. I will never forget the days leading up to and following that day. Never.
It sounds cliché, but the experience changed me. Little 8 year old me. I knew death was real when most of my friends didn’t. I knew what cancer was. I found it all fascinating. I read medicine books. I needed to know everything that could kill me and my family. But, I wanted nothing to do with it, or at least that is what I thought… My, how things change.
I have had other losses. Some have really shaken me, like my classmate this summer. I learned that I can’t avoid the things that hurt you. And that sometimes death just happens. But, I think it still shapes you.
They say death is hardest on the living. It’s tough to actually say goodbye. Sometimes it’s impossible. You never really stop feeling the loss. It’s what makes things so bittersweet. –Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy
Time marched on. I discovered I loved physics and biology and such in high school. I got sold on doing Nuclear Medicine as an undergrad thanks to a few friends.
I had minimal interest in working with people. I thought being a researcher would me my area of interest. It just seemed I didn’t like the touchy feely stuff like my friends… It made me uncomfortable.
It wasn’t until I started university I even considered medicine. I somehow fell into the job at the Hospice. I applied to it and several others. I never thought I would get it. It worried my family and friends… Me being around all of that death. I loved it. I can’t explain it, but it was home. And it just made sense. I was comfortable. I wanted to help these people. It really clicked.
I did Nuc Med.
During my undergrad, I changed. I found God. I found people. I discovered I had a passion for people in the difficult times in their lives, through crisis and illness. I continuously had things pointing me towards medicine and towards people.
In the end, I graduated and went to med school (though it came in to question repeatedly throughout my undergrad with all kinds of self-doubt and such). I wasn’t sure what to do once I got there. Oncology was on my brain, but so was Nuc Med… I loved it so much. Then, there was the whole Palliative Medicine thing.
I job shadowed in undergrad. In all of those things. I realized I loved people and that Nuc Med (as a physician) made me want to gouge my eyes out. I loved Palliative Medicine, but didn’t want to be a GP. Medical Oncology required an Internal Medicine Residency. Radiation Oncology was like the optimal combination of the things I liked leaving out some of the bits I disliked. Research, as it turned out was not really my thing at all.
So, Rad Onc became my new focus. I did the electives. I applied to the program and I got in. I am sufficiently anal retentive and organized to do the job. I love physics. I love the details. It is fascinating to see how quickly things are changing in the field and how team oriented and patient focused things are. I am comfortable in oncology. And I find it fascinating. There is something strangely amazing by the way cancer cells can just take over. The physiology. And even more so, it is amazing how we combat those cells.
It is a strange pick. A small program. A piece of the hospital that is a black box to most people. In fact, it is hardly taught in medical school. Some of my classmates didn’t know what I was going into when we graduated.
Sometimes, it takes moving forward to really understand how where you come from makes you who you are. If it weren’t for those experiences, for that by chance summer job, for my undergrad degree, I am not sure if I would have even done medicine let alone picked my career of choice.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. -Romans 8:28.