I am sitting in my kitchen having my first cup of coffee. The sun is shining through the windows, and upstairs, my kids are already awake- running from room to room, as if they are trying to catch a butterfly.
I have just completed my obligatory two-week rotation as inpatient oncology attending. I did not know any of these patients before I started; some were in the hospital due to treatment-related complications; others were in because they were overwhelmed by the symptoms due to the cancer itself. They represented all ages, men and women with different cancers including sarcomas, breast, lung, head and neck cancers. It was a strenuous two weeks, but I am fortunate to have a dedicated group of colleagues who care for these patients in the outpatient clinics and an amazing staff of advanced practice providers who worked alongside me.
Still, even as I adjust back to a more "normal" routine, I find I cannot stop thinking about “my” service. I wonder if some of them made it home for the holiday. If so, are they celebrating with family? Friends? Are they well enough to enjoy a traditional holiday feast? If not, I wonder what their day will be like. I hope they do not spend the holiday alone and that it is filled with people who love them.
For these patients, I find myself hoping that this hospitalization is only a setback, a minor inconvenience in their own lives, and one in which they will recover. I hope that they all will have future Thanksgivings to enjoy at home, fueled by the promise of precision therapies and our ever-expanding knowledge of how to treat cancer. Yet, I am keenly aware that for a few, this will likely be their last Thanksgiving due to the tempo of disease progression.
I do not think my inability to walk away from the wards without looking back is unique. On the contrary, I have had countless conversations with colleagues about this and more often than not, we all yearn for follow-up, for closure. I think in medicine, and especially in oncology, the bonds we form as clinicians and patients are ones not only forged through time, but through interactions, especially those that take place in an acute setting.
As I have been reminded of several times this year (and as clichéd as it may sound), no one is guaranteed a future, cancer or no cancer, remission or living with advanced disease. So, I will give thanks for today, for my family, for the sun shining outside. And I will keep in my thoughts those I have met only recently.
I hope they know what an honor it was to care for them.