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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cut, Burnt and Poisoned.

“I have been cut, burnt and poisoned” said a friend of mine who has been recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He has gone through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  He is merely 40 years old. He has lived a very good life, successful in his career and married with two little daughters who are my daughter’s age.  I can relate to him on so many levels because of   many similar traits in our personalities and among our families.


We used to go out a lot before he was taken by this ailment. We have shared some good laughs and enjoyed some great times. I remember going out once for a snorkeling trip. There were at least fifty or so people floating around us.  So here we were snorkeling up and down the river, we would come back up to our canoe and move to different spot.  It started to rain and we continued to do what we were doing. After a while I come up and notice there is no one in the river any more. My friend realized it too. I asked him where did everybody go. He said possibly because it is raining and, after a pause he said ……lightening too. We suddenly realized that we are sitting in an aluminum canoe. Moment of panic struck us at the same time. It was an open invitation for a lightening bolt to strike us. We both paddled for our lives and reached the shore on record Olympic time. Once we were safe we laughed at our stupidity for a very long time….. We still do.


We would also meet on the weekends where my 6 year old daughter would go for karate class. His daughter was just too good despite being the same age as my daughter. I was afraid she may break someone’s arm or leg. One day he told me how he taught her daughter to throw a perfect punch, I envied him because even I don’t know how to throw one. I thought well maybe I can teach my daughter not to throw a perfect tantrum.


Sometimes I wish we can have that time back. I wish he can get better like this has never happened before. I asked him how come he is so brave, I would tap out so fast. He replied I am as brave as any father would be. I am doing this for my daughters.


After he received his first cycle of surgery, radiation and chemo he waited for a month before the CT chest and abdomen were repeated. He was very optimistic, doing everything right and embracing any therapy available for this disease. He was even getting imported Japanese herbal tea which can help with cancers. Then came the results of the CT scan which showed that there was no remission, in fact there was progression of disease with lymph node involvement.


I remember the day when I found out. I had a tough time sleeping that night.  But he did not flinch and started the process again with chemo. I asked him how it feels. He said “It is like you prepare for your tests and work really hard, you sit at the day of test and do really well. But when the result come out you find out that you got a F. That’s how it feels like”. I was speechless.


His courage, dedication and strength is inspirational. We met few days ago and during our conversation he told me casually that he sold one of his cars just in case if he is not around things would be simpler for his wife. To come in terms of one’s mortality is not an easy thing to do. His wife who is a physician too puts up an act so convincing that it is hard to figure out what is going on behind this veil of bravado.


I read a book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, a computer professor who stood in front of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and frankly talked about his fight with pancreatic cancer with few months to live. Later in the lecture he did some push ups followed by a lecture about how to achieve childhood dreams. He writes in his book “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”.


I think my friends have played it well. Sometimes I feel guilty that in the game of life the dice coughed out the wrong numbers. Sometimes I have trouble looking straight in his eyes thinking he may discover that I fear for him. But there is never a time when I don’t envy his strength. I wish I could have been a better friend.


Anyway my friend I just want you to know we are here for you always and I hope we are stupid again to snorkel during thunder and lightening soon.


Blog you later.


About the picture: I took this picture at our house but my daughter provided me with the ketchup.

PS: This is a follow up.


mdspencer said...

We all choose the path we take for treatment. That choice gives us the strength to follow it. If our doctors are paying attention to our side effects and symptoms, it's actually okay as long as we have something to live for. I fear for people who don't. Keep loving your friend and you're yet another reason to keep at it.

jessica lipnack said...

Beautiful photo, touching story. Your friend's analogy to flunking the test is apt even as he's aced the big test, raising such a strong daughter that she knows how to throw a punch. He's given her a way to defend herself for her whole life - even if she never throws a physical punch ever! Keep writing! Great stories you're telling.

Maureen Bisognano said...

Thanks for this great blog, and poignant story. You inspire us to be better clinicians, and more live every day of our lives.

Ed Romero said...

Wonderful Story.. As you know I have also been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. During my treatments I have met some Doctors who are cold, seem very disconnected with the human aspect of what the patient is dealing with and just seem not to care.

You on the other hand are very different. Your a great friend and doctor. You're one of the reasons why I'm getting better. Thank you for the great story. I love the picture too!

e-Patient Dave said...

It's such a trial sometimes, being with the question of who's going to survive - or rather, how long we'll each survive.

I deeply appreciate the dedication of clinicians who can face issues like this in others' lives and stay compassionate. It seems like taking on the task of policing the sadder edge of life, knowing some will fall off and others will come back, while being of service to all.

Welcome to the blogosphere. Good start.

ash_q99 said...

thank you for reminding us: we are all human beings at the end of the day! lovely story.

Anonymous said...

Your style is personal and you share it in a way that we feel the moment.

Wondering in SanFran.

Anonymous said...

I have seen you work for many years now. I can see you in what you write. Professional and sincere.