Guest contributor Margaret Nyman chronicled the 42 days after her husband Nate was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This post is from Ross Abrams, MD, a radiation oncologist who treated Nate at Rush University Medical Center.
By Ross Abrams, MD
Over my 37 years as a physician, I have mostly done academic clinical oncology. Sometimes this was medical oncology and hematology, either clinical, clinically focused lab based research, or a combination of both. Later, this was radiation oncology and clinical research related to my patient care and that of my colleagues. The decision to specialize in oncology was driven by observing my mentors when I was a medical student and early resident, by the challenges and opportunities posed by trying to help manage patients with malignant disease, by the excitement of new advances as I was finishing medical school and beginning training, by my mother undergoing surgery for breast cancer and receiving chemotherapy in an early trial of adjuvant chemotherapy shortly after I graduated from medical school, and by the training opportunities available.
However, at the core of all of this, what consistently kept me centered was the human connection. My internal definition of “being a doctor” required being regularly involved in caring for other human beings. When I didn’t have this, there were times when it was “ok.” Particularly in the beginning, when I was immersed intensely in my lab work — trying to get started, develop techniques, prove myself and get results. However, over time, it became clear that being exclusively in the lab was not my calling. Later, I felt I had to choose between one or the other, as doing both at the level of excellence I expected was, for me, too demanding. I chose patient care and left the lab behind.
In the early 1990s, my clinical practice became focused on the nonsurgical care of pancreatic cancer. This assignment found me — almost accidentally, from my perspective. It was a function of the institution where I worked, programmatic needs, and no one else to do the task. This was a hard assignment for lots of reasons, and I had to grow into it. I would say it took me about five or six years before I began to feel truly comfortable in this new role.
When I met you, your husband, and other members of your family at the end of September 2009, it quickly became clear that none of you, as of yet, quite understood what was likely happening. There was a huge disconnect between how “bad” Mr. Nyman’s images appeared and how well Mr. Nyman was feeling and looked that day. Continue reading