The woman sits anxiously in the exam room, fidgeting with her green clay necklace. She was referred because of an incidental finding on a physical exam mandated by her insurance company.
Another woman in her 50s, with streaks of gray hair, calmly sits in the room next door with her head held high, preparing herself for the worse. She had felt a lump on her breast while showering.
The corner room contains a young Mexican woman with her 4-year-old daughter sliding up and down the chair. The woman does not know a word of English and she doesn’t know why she was told to go to this special doctora.
A different surgical oncologist entered each room, but all three women were diagnosed with breast cancer. The three surgical oncologists were in stark contrast by their personalities, but they had similarities. Besides the fact that they were experts in their fields and incredibly generous and patient, they all delivered the bad news with compassion. They maintained hope but presented all the facts. They offered support and promised to do their best. They wanted to see their patient win the battle.
It was inspiring to see these patients, and others, overcome this life-altering diagnosis. I was amazed when I met these brave women turn fear into fearlessness. No matter what happened, they were not going to let cancer control their lives. They were not going to go down without a fight.
One patient was less than 30 and full of life. You would never guess that this bubbly, smiling woman was hiding a head without hair under her colorful scarf. I couldn’t believe that someone so young and not that far from my own age had breast cancer. It’s not like her calendar says, “March 31: doctor’s appointment to be diagnosed with breast cancer.” How do you prepare for that? You don’t. It comes unexpectedly and changes your life forever.
Seeing these patients with real problems humbled me and made me realize that my daily issues were mere trivialities compared to what they had to deal with.
Experiences like this puts life into perspective. We can’t wait until something tragic happens before we realize what’s important.
Seeing these patients also puzzled me. Why are these women getting breast cancer? What can we do to save them? What can we do to prevent this?
These patients motivate me to be the best doctor I can be. I don’t want more people to be diagnosed with breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter. I want to figure out why this occurs and when it does occur, what management is best?
I think of these patients from time to time because they inspire me, humble me, perplex me and motivate me.
They are women warriors.