Saturday, March 9, 2013
On my way home from work last night, I stopped for a drink with an old friend of mine. When I say old... I've known this friend since we were kids. I can't remember a time when I didn't know him. We were joined by two of his other friends, who I was meeting for the first time. When I first meet people, and they ask what I do, my answer evokes either a blank look, a look of pity, or a lot of questions.
Thankfully, this time I got questions.
The two most common questions I'm asked are how I ended up doing what I do, and what is the most rewarding part of my job. I'd like to share my answers here, as a part of my new beginning.
How did I end up as a pediatric oncologist? I wasn't one of those kids who knew at age 5 he wanted to be a doctor. In fact, I went to college hoping to be a research scientist. It was only after my sophomore year that my father suggested to me that if I wanted to do medical research, a medical degree might be helpful. So I started medical school in the Medical Scientist Training Program, on a track to get both an MD and a PhD. Thankfully, just seven years later, I graduated with both degrees, ready to take the next steps.
Why oncology? I was attracted to the science. Understanding how cells work fascinated me, and when I realized that cancer is a perversion of the normal processes of cell biology, I knew what I wanted to study.
Why pediatrics? That's even easier. I love kids. I love their undying optimism, their boundless enthusiasm for life, they neverending need to explore the world around them, and their seemingly limitless ability to love those around them.
The choice to become a pediatric oncologist turned out to be pretty easy for me.
What is the most rewarding part of my job? That's pretty easy, too. Earlier this week, I received an email from an old patient. He wrote to tell me that it was the 15th anniversary of the day we met and I told him he had cancer. He has now lived more time post-diagnosis than pre, and felt moved to tell me how much he loved his life and how happy he was to have met me.
I received a similar message two years ago. An old patient wrote to me on her birthday. She told me she had recently been researching her diagnosis... and realized that someone with her type of leukemia, who had the chromosome mutations that her leukemia had, ought to have died. Not only was she celebrating another birthday, but she was preparing for her wedding, and she wrote to thank me for taking such good care of her.
How could I ever have considered any other career?
It's spring. Time for new beginnings. Time to renew my efforts in the lab, so that even more kids will be able to look back on the day they were diagnosed and be thankful for the modern treatments, born of an intense research effort, that have erased the day when a childhood cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.
Who am I, and why am I here?