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Reflections on Time at the End of the Year

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP

30 Dec 2012 5:36 PM

A feeling of introspection always marks the end of the year for me. Perhaps it is because of medicine and of oncology—but, as January approaches, I am cognizant of time and how precious it truly is. I find myself reminiscing about the year through photographs (with the help of iPhoto, I have them arranged by month on my computer)—and it amazes me how much things have changed, professionally and personally. Fellow graduation at Women & Infants Hospital, the birth of my nephew Kai, and the continuing growth of my children—time seems to be quite literally flying by. I find myself wishing that time would stop, although I am fully aware that nothing can ever stay the same.

At the end of the year I think about my patients as well. This year my thoughts are of a particular patient I had met following her initial diagnosis of breast cancer. She was around my age, with young children. I had seen her through treatment, and gave her the good news that she was in remission. We got to know each other during her follow-up, exchanging stories of our families, of shared experiences as young parents. Years went by quickly and as our doctor-patient relationship deepened, so did our friendship.

When she relapsed, I was the one to give her the news. We went through multiple lines of treatment, but each successive regimen was a little less effective. At one point in this last year, her scan showed new sites of disease. I recall that conversation; her liver was essentially replaced with metastatic disease.

As her doctor, I had told her that it was “time”; that her disease was terminal. She and her husband had cried, wondering what they should do now. As her friend I reminded her that she was still very much alive, right now. I suggested that she take advantage of time, no matter how long or short, to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. It was an opportunity to impart wisdom to her sons, to reach out to all of those she cherished and loved.

I saw her monthly once she entered hospice and with each visit we discussed the process of goodbyes, what she was doing to ensure her sons would remember her. She had a purpose now and was intent on completing it.

I remember her now as I look back on my year and I consider the advice I had given to her and to others under my care. As we say goodbye to 2012, I pause and consider myself blessed for these experiences and relationships which have helped to shape who I am as a father, husband, and physician.

To all of my patients, alive and those who have died, and to all of their families and friends I have been privileged to meet, I send my prayers for a peaceful and blessed new year. All of you have mattered, and I will remember that.

Comments

Number of Comments: 4
Laurie Lyckholm

Thursday, January 03, 2013 9:24 PM

Oh my gosh--you wrote so beautifully and I feel so much the same way. Thank you for this. What a lovely tribute to your patient and to the work you do.


Sincerely,
Laurie Lyckholm MD
Oncologist at VCU in Richmond 
Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP

Friday, January 04, 2013 8:29 AM

Dear Laurie, Thank you for the validation! I find writing therapeutic and it is so nice to know that I give voice to many of us who go through the same emotive experiences. Happy New Year! DSD
Suanna Bruinooge

Wednesday, January 09, 2013 9:40 AM

Thanks so much, Dr. Dizon, for sharing this perspective. I'm an ASCO staff person, so I hear from a lot of members I work with on these types of discussions, but I've never heard it framed like this. You gave such a gift to this woman and her husband to live in the moment, enjoy what they had, and plan for the future, as difficult as that was. Thanks for sharing!

~ Suanna
ASCO Cancer Policy and Clinical Affairs Department
Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP

Wednesday, January 09, 2013 10:59 AM

Dear Suanna,
I am extremely touched by your comments. Thank you for the nice feedback. Happy New Year and my best always. And thank YOU for the work you do at ASCO. D

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Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP