March 2023

Balance in the In-Between

The voice of a dear yoga teacher echoes in my head: “It is easy to maintain your balance in the pose. The hard part is to stay balanced when moving from one pose to another.” Real life often evidences itself on the yoga mat, and life transitions are not my favorite events. Thus, unsurprisingly, I frequently rushed the transitions between poses in yoga class. As my legs, torso, and arms whipped about, my teacher would call out my name to remind me to pay attention and find my balance in between poses.

Into the Unknown

On March 17, 2015, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Initially it was thought that I would need only a lumpectomy and radiation, but the biopsy changed everything.

The pathology report said that the tumor was HER2-positive and estrogen/progesterone positive. The HER2 protein makes the cancer more aggressive, so I would need, in addition to surgery and radiation, eighteen weeks of standard chemotherapy, a year of two other infused drugs and a hormone-blocking oral drug.

Still, the cancer was stage 1a with a decent prognosis, according to my oncologist, who said, “The good news here is that we have treatments for every part of your cancer. You are lucky.”

Hope Is the Thing With Feathers

When my son Locklin was a month old, he became very sick. He started throwing up and kept throwing up and ended up in the hospital.

The hospital ID band on my son’s wrist fit on my ring finger. I could cradle my son’s whole body in my hands.

The oxygen meter clamped to his finger was the size of a paper clip. It glowed red and blue, the colors of emergency, like tiny police lights flashing against bleached hospital sheets.

Balancing Parenting with Medicine

I still recall fond memories of when I, a busy, young cardiologist, was invited to teach my daughter’s kindergarten class. These eager, young learners were enthralled when they first heard their own hearts go “lub-dub” using my stethoscope. It was also heartwarming to see the excitement in their eyes as they watched a portable blood pressure gauge pulsating with each heartbeat as I demonstrated how to check a blood pressure.

My Medical Leave of Absence

“A blessing in disguise.” I heard that phrase many times at the height of my illness. When someone is about to die, or when the future looks bleak, it’s hard to practice that philosophy. But, for some reason, I was able to. I kept my doctor’s appointments. I followed my treatment regimen. I heeded the advice to take my mind off my work in medicine. I took things one day at a time.

“One day, almost dying is going to seem like a good thing.” I didn’t care how unlikely that sounded. I believed it.

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