I have wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been a patient for even longer. Specifically, at age 5 I was diagnosed with low-grade glioma brain tumour.
I often find myself wary to share this information. This is mainly because I lead a perfectly normal and healthy life today. In fact, my life is so normal, that I probably go months without remembering this diagnosis. My hesitation to disclose my medical history comes from fear of being looked at “differently”. I don’t want any sympathy or special treatment. I don’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable. And I definitely don’t want people to think this is the only reason I chose to become a physician. However, lately I’ve realized that what I always believed to be my greatest weakness, my illness, may actually have become my greatest strength. Having a deeper understanding of the patient experience continues to provide me with so much insight as well as direction on where I want to take my career.
When I first started medical school a few months ago, I thought oncology was the only speciality for me. Specifically, pediatric oncology. This was probably because throughout my life, I have had so much exposure to this field both personally and academically. Firstly, I find the pathophysiology of cancer both terrifying and fascinating. Every patient is different, and I have always loved puzzles Secondly, and more importantly, I have been in that chemo chair and I have lost too many friends to cancer at an age much too young. However, as the first few months of medical school progressed, I realized that I didn’t want to become an oncologist because I was interested in cancer. I wanted to become an oncologist because I was interested in the patient experience. At that instant, so many doors opened up to me. Perhaps I wanted to be an endocrinologist, a psychologist, a physiatrist, or a family doctor.
There is something unique about being a childhood cancer patient, that is, in comparison to being an adult cancer patient. When I scrunch my nose, rack my brain, and dust off all the memories I have from inside the walls of Sick Kids Hospital, I don’t remember the fear, the anxiety or the sadness. I don’t remember having to make life-changing decisions regarding my chemotherapy treatment or sitting in the waiting room for my surgeries. I don’t remember what you think I would. Instead, I remember the little things – both the good and the bad. I remember being obsessed with care bears and getting to pick one out at the toy store after a really bad chemo day. I remember my dad buying me a foot-long sandwich and a Coca-Cola from subway right before the nurse took my measurements so I wouldn’t be too underweight. I remember having to miss every Friday of 1st grade in order to get my chemo treatment and worrying that my friends would forget about me. What I am trying to say is that: there is so much more to the patient experience than what we are taught in medical school. Likewise, there is so much more to being a physician than simply prescribing medication.
I don’t know what kind of doctor I want to be… However, what I do know is that I want to treat my patients holistically. Instead of only treating the symptoms of their disease, I will take into account both mental and social factors affecting my patient. I urge others to do the same. Ultimately, I hope to inspire and educate my peers to do the same along the way. For this reason, I no longer see the need to keep quiet about my medical history and so, I wrote this article.
There are more side effects to treatment than those listed on the back of a prescription bottle.