Tag: cancer

Erica Patel Erica Patel (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine

Erica Patel is a third year medical student at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. She studied Narrative Studies at USC as an undergrad, and loves the intersection of stories and medicine. Erica is a board member and medical director of Wema Children Center Inc, a non-profit she started that provides education, housing, and medical care to orphaned and low-income children in rural Kenya. She plans on pursuing a primary care field and working in developing countries while writing about her experiences to increase awareness.

No Happy Ending

One after the other, day after day it seems, I find myself in a room where the resident is breaking the news of terminal cancer to my patients and I feel an overwhelming sadness belied by numbness. It has only been a week and a half on internal medicine and we have already diagnosed three unsuspecting patients with cancer.

Lost in Translation

In the rest of the house, the noise of the party is deafening: the clink of glasses, the sizzle of burgers on the grill, the excited cries of relatives reunited after long absences. But in the bright light of the kitchen, Mark is talking to me without sound. He presses his right hand over his left then moves up its length, separating his thumb from the rest of his fingers as he goes replicating the open and shut motions of a jaw. “This is the sign for cancer,” he says.

A Patient in Denial: Is the System at Fault?

I’ve come to realize having an automatic word filter is one of my greatest blessings. It becomes quite useful when, in the middle of rounds, a patient’s single, monosyllabic response inspires such a flurry of mismatched curse words that only a properly formed filter can save my dignity. What exactly did this patient say that stunned me so violently? My attending had asked him a straightforward, albeit grim, question. “Do you know you have cancer?” …

The Metaphorization of Cancer

A leading expert on language and the mind, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker suggests in his book “The Stuff of Thought” that “conceptual metaphors point to an obvious way in which people could learn to reason about new, abstract concepts,” as well as provide the imagery and substrate to help store and share knowledge. The metaphorization of illness allows us to describe it in easily-digestible forms which have relevance and relation to our everyday speech. The …

Treating the Disease and Treating the Illness

Standing at the foot of her hospital bed, it was clear to me — as it was to the attending physician — that my grandmother was suffering from a disease: an obvious structural disorder identified by scientific medicine as negatively impacting her health. Hilar mass, cavitation, hypercalcemia. Keratin pearls, intercellular bridges. Hemoptysis, dyspnea, edema. It was also apparent to this eight year-old, however, that she was burdened by an illness, or an impaired sense of well-being. …



How can doctors-in-training honor the voices of their patients, especially children’s voices? Trisha, a first-year medical student who aspires to become a pediatric oncologist, discusses her mission to give children with cancer the opportunity to be heard. She describes a project she developed inviting children to tell the stories of their illness, which she compiled into her book, “Chronicling Childhood Cancer: A Collection of Personal Stories by Children and Teens with Cancer,” that was published this month in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

The Importance of Family

The wonderfully cheery 66-year-old woman sitting in the conference room with her family listened to us explain her diagnosis – ovarian cancer – the first occurrence. We explained that ovarian cancer tends to appear suddenly with non-specific symptoms preceding it. Its prognosis can be quite good if treated aggressively with surgery and chemotherapy, but recurrence rates are very high. We told her to be positive because her 5-year survival looked quite good. “Oh, I’m a …

When a Patient’s Disease Strikes a Chord

After arriving at the hospital, scrubbing in and warming up with a few anatomy questions with my attending, I was relaxed and ready to assist with the upcoming thyroidectomy. My patient, who will be referred to as “M,” was a 17-year-old girl who presented to the office with dizziness. After an extensive workup it was discovered that her symptoms were due to thyroid dysfunction. The surgery was meant to be a straightforward case, but the …

A Sweet Embrace

I read the latest progress note: ¨67-year-old male with metastatic lung cancer. Mildly agitated. Pain controlled with morphine.¨ I walk into a single room to see a frail man looking worn beyond his years. I introduce myself and ask if it is a good time to chat. He looks away and tells me that now is not a good time. I can see he has just received his lunch tray. Fair enough. I would not …


Life Among the Zebras

We’re all familiar with those epidemiology pie charts that preface most of our pathology lectures. They’re the slides that everyone tunes out and gleefully skip over when reviewing for the exam, minus the few pertinent buzzwords: risk factors, mean age, gender and common symptoms. After all, “think horses, not zebras” is one of the most famous adages in medicine and rightfully so, because biology operates on efficient systems in very logical patterns. Do the body …

Jennifer Yang Jennifer Yang (6 Posts)


University of Alabama School of Medicine

Jennifer Yang attends medical school at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in the Class of 2016. She is from San Diego, CA and did her undergrad at UC Berkeley studying neurobiology and English. To keep her sanity intact during school, she distracts herself with music, food, reddit, and way too many TV shows. She firmly believes that laughter really is the best medicine.

I'm No Superman

Many of us go into med school with big visions for bettering modern medicine, but as we go through this journey, we realize that there is still a long way to go, and we can't do it all alone. This column is not meant to be extremely profound or didactic but simply a reflection on the what it means to stay human in midst of society's expectations and our own expectations.