During my family medicine rotation, I experienced one of my most memorable patient encounters. Accompanied by her daughter, my patient came for her annual physical with her primary care physician. Approaching them with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness , I couldn’t help but notice the genuine happiness radiating from both of them. As I introduced myself, their shared joy seemed to envelop the room. It was then that the patient’s daughter shared, “Today is my Mom’s 15-year Whipple Anniversary!” The room glowed with their smiles and palpable excitement. As an anxious medical student, I offered my congratulations. However, I admit that I hadn’t fully grasped the significance of this important milestone in her life.
As I journeyed through my third year of medical school, I entered my general surgery clerkship. During this rotation, I had the chance to work with a skilled general surgeon who specializes in hepato-biliary pathologies, allowing me to finally grasp the excitement my patient had expressed months before. Usually, patients eligible for Whipple procedures are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis that instills significant fear due to its prognosis. The manifestations and indications of this condition are subtle and insidious, frequently only discovered in the advanced stages of malignancy. The Whipple procedure stands as a crucial option, if not the singular one, offering these patients a chance to overcome this formidable cancer. Unfortunately, despite the availability of this alternative chance at life, the success rates for this procedure continue to be relatively low.
As I grew more attuned to the significance of this procedure, I found myself contemplating the concept of medical anniversaries. To me, a medical anniversary represents a poignant juncture etched into a patient’s life. This could encompass pivotal moments like the shattering instance of receiving an initial diagnosis of cancer, or conversely, the day when a patient rejoices in being declared “cancer-free.” In the case of my patient, her anniversary marked the day she underwent an intricate surgery, holding the potential to eradicate a condition that had once posed a grave threat to her life.
With each Whipple procedure or surgical oncology-related operation I participated in, my thoughts invariably turned to this patient. My intention was twofold. Firstly, I wished to pay homage to her sense of joy and accomplishment. Secondly, I wished to extend the same fervent hope for success to other patients engaged in similar battles against challenging conditions. The influence of these dates shapes our patients’ lives in ways that might not always be immediately apparent. This particular patient encounter granted me a deep appreciation for the significance of medical anniversaries. Now, I am dedicated to honoring these moments going forward.