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Almost Normal

His steps are wobbly. Our children hold their father’s hands to steady him as they move through the sand toward the ocean. I remain far back on the shore, shading my eyes to make out the three of them as they stand in the shallow water.

I am thinking that he looks like a ten-year-old child from this distance. My sight turns blurry, a combination of sun, sand and sorrow.

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Look Me in the Eye

I was new.

Seventeen days earlier, a discerning pediatrician had recommended tests to untangle my five-year-old son’s cluster of puzzling symptoms—headache, vomiting and double vision. The alarmed face of the radiation technician in the booth during the CT scan was my introduction to a world where I didn’t know the rules, the language or what was expected of me.

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Healing

When I thought I might die,
not eventually, but very
soon, I treated me more kindly,

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Going in Peace

All too often in my forty years of practicing medicine, I’ve seen patients die hard, lonely deaths—lying on a stretcher under the emergency department’s glaring lights, or all alone in an ICU bed.

In extreme situations, the patient is covered in medical equipment: a breathing tube in the mouth, defibrillator pads on the chest, monitor leads on the torso, IV lines dangling from the neck and arms. When family members finally enter the room, it’s

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An American Journey

I vividly remember sitting in the living room of my grandmother’s house in Piedra Blanca, Dominican Republic. The room had been cleared of furniture. Before me, a flower-filled casket held the body of a young girl—my sister Nelsida, age seven. She had died from an anesthesia overdose prior to surgery.

I was five. I will never forget the sight of the cotton balls inside her nose and ears, the ice under the casket and the

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Where My Story Ends and Yours Begins

It was a Thursday morning, my first day on the medical oncology service. I hurriedly gathered my white coat and badge, the block letters “3rd Year Medical Student” unmistakable in fresh ink. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to look up at the cancer center.

This is going to be difficult, I thought.

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Seated on My Hospital Bed

My seventh-floor window vibrates,
          the room throbs in crescendo
as a rescue helicopter stitches
          a curved seam across the sky
bound for Children’s Hospital.

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The Fight of His Life

During the early months of the COVID pandemic, the Utah medical school where I teach asked me to facilitate a small group of first-year students in Layers of Medicine—a course that covers what you might call the “messy” side of medicine, including end-of-life discussions.

Just after the course started, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. All at once, I felt my personal and professional responsibilities intersect, unexpectedly and powerfully.

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Wreckage

It must have come in a hurry
on a ship of pain, breaching
the weak seawall of her lungs.
The tumor, split from its moorings, set adrift.

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Last Patient of the Day

Last patient of the day, and of the work week! I was finishing what felt like my Thursday Night Endurance Test, after which I could go home to my family, and eventually to bed.

As on so many Thursdays, I was running behind. My final appointment was with a new patient, Ann Miller. Before entering the exam room, I did some fact-finding.

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This Is How You Cope With Cancer

Bleach your hair,

get drunk on champagne,

pretend the left and right halves of your face are the exact same,

ignore and deny it, laugh loudly–too loudly,

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