What is Hope?

If you type it into Google, the definition you get is: a feeling of expectation & desire for a certain thing to happen. I don’t know about you, but hope is something that gets me though each & everyday. The [Hope] of me becoming a Physician, The [Hope] of a happy life, the [Hope] of days that I will remember for the rest of my life. Hope is a pretty big thing. Especially to someone who has just been diagnosed with [Cancer]. Hope is all they have, Hope that the treatment will take, Hope that they can spend the Holidays with their Kids, Grandkids… etc., Hope that they won’t be in complete pain for the rest of the time they are allotted with this condition.

Can you imagine hearing “You have cancer”? Its nothing like McDonalds running out of your favorite burger. Or that the hair appointment you had planned for months has been cancelled. It’s a complete & total – stop dead in your tracks – sentence. Just three words, with such an earth shattering meaning. I can’t imagine, nor do I wish imagining how it feels to hear those words, However, I do know how it feels to hear the person that brought you into this world, cared for you, & did nothing but support you your entire life tell you that “I have cancer”.

Cancer Hits Home

In 2011, my mother was diagnosed with Stage [2] Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She underwent a successful lumpectomy & was treated with radiation. August 1, 2020 will be her 9th year in remission. In August of 2016 she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma – but it was not clear at that point. Doctors found nodules in her lungs, which we monitored for a few months. The proximity to the heart & small nature of the nodules did not allow for biopsy. Thinking it was lung cancer my mom underwent a lobectomy to get ahead of the situation. Shortly after we found out that the nodules were just filled with lymphocytes, not a carcinoma like we first thought. Her oncologist said its likely an indolent NHL of the lung. There was nothing to do at that point so we went on our lives. However, in February of 2019 due to shortness of breath I rushed my mom to the hospital & after several tests we found out that her lungs were filled with lymphoma. So bad that she had to be on oxygen because her saturation was so poor. Her oncologist started her on a R-CHOP chemotherapy regimen in the hospital & once she was able to breathe on her own she was discharged. She successfully completed a cycle of R-CHOP & I proudly saved the certificate they gave us. My mom is currently on a maintenance Rituxan regimen to hopefully keep the immune system under control. But every cough, makes me wonder. I still hold my breathe every time she goes to see her oncologist in fear of hearing of a reoccurrence. It wasn’t even my diagnoses & I felt my world being flipped upside down & being shoved into a tiny can while the life was being squeezed out of me. I know what you’re thinking, a little dramatic? I don’t think so, considering I come from a single parent home, where my rock, & main supporter looked helpless & there was nothing I can do to help her on several occasions. She put on a brave face, was optimistic & strong though it all, but her eyes said otherwise.

In addition to that, due to the hereditary nature of certain cancers, I saw my own life put through a few spin cycles. What If I had the genes? What if I developed cancer? Will I pass the genes on to my kids? Should I even have kids in the future? All these thoughts rushed through my head & needless to say it was a very rough time for me & my family. My mother underwent extensive genetic testing due to two cancer diagnoses. Thankfully the markers came out negative. I also got tested, but solely for the BRCA genes to make sure I had no increased risk coming from my fathers side of the family. It was all a really hard pill to swallow.

Plan Interrupted

Throughout 2010-2011 I had to put my life on hold. Nothing mattered, I was so consumed with what was going on to concentrate on what I perceived as secondary. My path to becoming a physician was also put on hold & suffered bruises because of it. My work schedules changed drastically. I remember being on the computer for hours trying to find a good specialist for my mother, googling treatments & medicines, trying to understand what we would have to do, what the better route would be. These experiences taught me a lot about myself. They further ignited my already strong desire to become a physician. The day of my mom’s surgery to excise the breast cancer tumor was the day everything made sense to me. It was the day I realized I no longer wanted to be a pediatrician, I wanted to be a Surgical Breast Oncologist. To this day it’s still my number one goal. However, since I started working in dermatology & with skin cancers. I have also developed a strong passion for dermatology. Becoming a Mohs surgeon has definitely risen to number two on my list of specialties. Only medical school & residency will tell which path I choose. However, at this moment, with full certainty I can tell you I will definitely be treating cancer surgically.

Food for thought

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can appear in anyone at any age. This is why it’s important to try to live a healthy lifestyle. Maintain a good diet, exercise, drink plenty of water & sleep at least 8 hours a day. Listen to your body, if something feels off, follow your gut. Self breast exams are also very important for everyone. For women, the best time is after their menstrual cycle, every month. Men should also stay on top of how their breast tissue feels. Breast cancer can be due to heredity, age or just plain bad luck. No one is safe. While on the topic of breast cancer; it anyone in your family was diagnosed with Breast cancer, it would be a wise to get tested. If a person has a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation there is about 80% risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer in ones lifetime. This is why Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy. Prevention is very important, especially with the gene mutations.

I know this was long, but I thank you for reading. I wanted to share the story of one of my main motivational factors. Life is too short to not follow your heart. Spend time doing what you love, future you will thank you.

x0x Grace

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