Raafia Siddiqui is second year medical student at McMaster University.
The surgeon asked me for the second time, “So are you here alone?” “Yes”, I answered, this time a bit impatiently. I was a 20-year-old with other things than this appointment but my family doctor had noticed a lump on my throat and insisted I see a specialist. We were supposed to discuss the results of the biopsy today.
After my response, the surgeon placed his hand on my shoulder and let out a long sigh. I asked him, “What is it?” His reply was very short and urgent, “There’s a lump - and we have to take it out”.
Immediately, I understood what he meant and began pressing him with questions, “Is it malignant? Has it metastasized? What type of cancer is it?” Although I felt I had to pry answers out of him, the specialist finally told me I had a thyroid tumour, which he believed had begun to spread.
Matthew Lee is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at Dalhousie University
I was totally unsure. Meeting a patient who knows they are going to die... wouldn’t it be intrusive, at the end? A student coming into your life: asking questions, getting signatures, asking you to share your precious time. In the same position, I don’t know if I would say yes. That thought makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Checking in on the floor, with information hurriedly scribbled into the margins of a notebook. A brief run-in with her mother in the crowded room, then twenty minutes spent in the hallway — trying not to be obtrusive while staff hurry by. There are visitors every day, and I doubt I looked out of place.
In some ways, I chose to take on this project in order to become more comfortable with death. It’s something I have faced before, and it took years to move past my friend dying from lymphoma. He quickly stepped away to take a phone call at our convocation. It was a biopsy result. Nearly six months to the day and it was all over. It took nearly everything I had. ...continue reading →
Sabrina Slade is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at Queen's University
Let me preface this by saying I am the kind of person who uses sarcasm and humour as a form of coping, and these opinions are my own.
You I have cancer.
A phrase I never could have dreamt would come out of my mouth, yet something I see or speak about almost every day in my so far short-lived medical career.
It’s the last week of June; I’ve just started my internal medicine rotation in Toronto and am rushing to get ready as I have slept through all seven of my alarms. I glance at my phone, noticing three missed calls and a voicemail with a little urgent symbol beside it. It’s my family doctor’s office; I listen to the voicemail half-heartedly as I struggle to pull on my nylons. She says something about biopsy results, and the words “neoplasia” and “urgent referral” stop me cold. I shimmy over to my phone, my nylons awkwardly half on, and hit replay. ...continue reading →
When Breath Becomes Air begins with Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s childhood life in Arizona, where he developed a passion for English literature and biology that provided the foundation for his desire to pursue medicine. During the first half of the book, Dr. Kalanithi writes about this journey, which notably involved attending several internationally-esteemed universities: Cambridge, Yale, and Stanford. Not only did he graduate from these schools with honours — he was also pursuing the notoriously demanding specialty of neurosurgery. Despite the rigour of residency training in this discipline and a blooming relationship with his partner, Lucy, Dr. Kalanithi was not merely managing; he was gradually rising to prominence in the field as a clinician-scientist. ...continue reading →
Zeenat Junaid is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at Bahria University in Pakistan
I checked his file again and looked up to see the patient with a tube hanging off his shaved head. Mr. Taj Saboor, 48 years old, had brain cancer —glioblastoma multiforme. It had been removed twice in the last six months, and each time it had returned with pugnacious insistence. If cancers were little shoots and plants, or even weeds or bushes, then glioblastoma multiform would surely be Jack's colossal beanstalk of lore spurting straight up to the sky. It is fast; it is monstrous. Even when meticulously removed, one never knows where else in the brain the beans have been strewn and where hell may again break loose. It surely is the grand master of all stealthy and lethal cancers. ...continue reading →
Sarah Hanafi is a medical student in the Class of 2018 at the University of Alberta
In healthcare, we sometimes hear the saying, “I went home thinking about that patient.” I thought I knew what this meant until I met Winnie.
It was a foggy Tuesday and the humidity hung thick in the air. On my first day as an elective student in Palliative Care, I was apprehensive as I exited the elevator onto the hospital unit where I would be spending the next two weeks. Soon after my orientation, I was asked to go meet my first patient. Winnie came to us with pain and shortness of breath due to an advanced lung cancer. We worried that Winnie’s hospital bed would become her death bed. ...continue reading →
Marc Levin is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at McMaster University
I was always an active kid growing up. In high school, I attended an all-boys prep school. The curriculum was based on the old British system; accordingly, rugby was our main sport. Much to my mother’s dismay and my father’s delight, I started playing rugby in grade nine and went on to play at an international age-grade level.
Rugby was exhilarating. It provided me with a unique opportunity to develop communication skills, passion, emotion, work ethic, and resilience. It gave me the chance to experience raw moments of leadership and comradery. ...continue reading →
A British photographer and educator, Spence was a transforming voice in the arts of the last century. Her documentary-style photo albums dealt with themes of class struggle, conformity, and feminism. In 1982, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A few years later, leukemia also set in. This cancer was not just in her blood and bones — it had seeped into her existence. It hijacked her arteries of security; it exiled her into grey plains of isolation she had never known before. Her whole career, she had sought to catch that special look — that nuance in a scene that told another story. But could she capture this tyrant phantom of disease now in her photos? How to express something for which words falter? ...continue reading →
Cathy Li is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at the University of Toronto
"Doctor, what do you recommend for my grandmother's pancreatic tumour?" My heart was fluttering nervously as I scribbled down his suggestions. This was the third meeting I had arranged.
Growing up, I had a very close relationship with my grandmother and lived with my grandparents until I was six years old. I received the news of her diagnosis during my third year of university. The words “intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm” haunted me and echoed incessantly in my head for days; I could neither think nor focus. The feelings of powerlessness grappled to hold me down. Yet deep down, I was aware that simply being a passive bystander would be the greatest personal defeat. With that, a new wave of resilience inundated my thoughts. ...continue reading →