By Amrita Krishnan, MD, FACP, and Kimaya Reddy
I saw my cousin, an ER doctor, at a family wedding; she had the glassy-eyed stare of the chronically sleep deprived. This was not due to a bad night shift in the ER, but due to the perpetual night shift well known to a mother of twins. I smiled in sympathy, and told her that things would get better. Upon reflection, I am not sure better is the correct word for any female physician. Certainly, being able to sleep through the night is tremendous for mental health. But the juggle does not end as children grow and careers progress.
I vividly remember being up at midnight baking cookies before the next morning’s very early flight to ASH. What choice is there, when your daughter reminds you that she promised to bring your chocolate chocolate chip cookies to the Latin Club bake sale? (For the record, they are really good.)
Here are the things I never did: be room mom, chaperone field trips, join the parent association, and I am sure so much more.
The truth is that as you advance in your career, you get more opportunities, more invitations to international meetings, more projects that require more meetings and more responsibilities at work. But your kid’s “career” is growing too. There are more and more school projects, more and more school functions—and don’t get me started on the sports commitments. If you currently have young children, just wait until high school, when it is less about being room mom and more about being an Uber driver.
So I try to multitask. My daughter has been to pretty much all the myeloma meetings, and in fact she now helps me with my PowerPoint presentations. I highly encourage any school projects that include the words “stem cell.” But probably the best person to comment is my teenager, Kimi, as everyone knows kids do not hold back their opinions.
“My mom is a hard worker. I know it because of the long hours she spends at the hospital caring for her patients. I can see it in the way she rushes around the kitchen cooking for the family and running to the office to tend to the stack of papers on her desk while the salmon is in the oven. On the hour-long commute to work she’s always on the Bluetooth phone, discussing plans for her next conference or meeting. ‘Rest’ is not a word in my mother’s vocabulary. Even on Christmas Day, during our ski trip to Colorado, she was reading papers and urging me to finish my summer applications. I grew up accustomed to my mom’s work ethic. It is the determination I see in my mother that instilled in me the will to succeed in all my classes, to win my tennis match, or even to stay up until 5 AM perfecting my essay.
“But even though she has to spend hours working, my mom never neglected me. She set aside her time to rest to drive me to my tennis match or to bake cookies with me. Although our moments together were limited, she taught me to make the most of the time we did have. And when she couldn’t be there because of work, I developed independence. I’ve been making my own lunch and doing my own laundry since fourth grade, and I’ve learned not to forget my tennis bag at home since there would be no one there to bring it to me at school. I will always admire my mom for the way she puts everyone around her––family, friends, and patients––before herself, and I’m so grateful to have such a hardworking role model in my life who shows that it is possible to both have a professional career and be a caring mother.”
In conclusion, it never becomes easier to balance a career in oncology with motherhood. The challenges just change over time. But the rewards––the opportunity to nurture and watch patients and children become independent, when cancer goes into remission and children grow up–––are timeless and priceless.
Dr. Krishnan is the director of the Judy and Bernard Briskin Multiple Myeloma Center and a professor of hematology/hematopoietic cell transplantation at City of Hope Cancer Center. Her daughter, Ms. Reddy, is a junior at Sage Hill School who plays tennis and co-founded the organization OC Books on the Run.