An oncologist’s deal with fate

An oncologists deal with fateRecently, a very dear friend learned that her breast cancer (diagnosed in 2010) had spread to her brain. Despite my many years as an oncologist, having faced questions from my own patients about “Why me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?”—questions I am fully aware have no answer—I found myself asking the same questions, expressing the same anguish: “Why her?”… “This is so unfair”…

If I am to be completely honest, I came to oncology due to a combination of factors. The first is based on reality—I was fascinated by the biology of human malignancy and found my calling in the care of women with breast or gynecologic cancer. The second was a bit more nonsensical—I became an oncologist to protect myself and those around me from getting cancer.

Obviously, it was a deal with fate that was truly one-sided. I have had multiple people I care about face a cancer diagnosis and some of them have succumbed to their disease. Still, every time someone close to me is dealt the “cancer card,” I cannot help but feel angered by fate, who once again turned its back on the deal we had made.  Sure, my deal with “fate” was nothing more than “wishful thinking,” but how often in our lives have we prayed for a good outcome: “God—if you give me this one thing, I promise to be a better ___.” I know many (if not all) of us have done so at least once in our lives.

So—what do I do with this? Well, this anger (or disappointment as it were) provides the motivation for me to do better. Whether it be as a father, friend, or oncologist (at times, all three), I can only hope that with each new year I grow professionally—so I can provide optimal and compassionate care, and personally—so I can be a better friend and husband.

More importantly, though, I pray as Rheinhold Niebuhr stated most eloquently: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Don S. Dizon is an oncologist who blogs at ASCO Connection, where this post originally appeared.

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  • Dana Webster

    As a patient twice diagnosed with cancer in 3 years, I can honestly say I’ve never asked those questions of myself.  I’m sure my husband has felt the same things you have, and I have a feeling my oncologist has felt the same.  His nurse shared a comment he’d make when learning my routine CT scan showed an abnormality last April.

    Perhaps I’ve been lucky to be diagnosed with a cancer with a generally high cure rate, where there are options for treatment, even when it returned.  I still have options, but each treatment will take more and more of a toll on my body.  As one lymphoma specialist told me bluntly, I will likely die from the treatment not the cancer.

    But, I appreciate your blog post because I needed people to be angered with me.  I wanted them to be honest and to say, “it sucks” because it does.  People told me to be positive, yet they weren’t the one sitting in a hospital for 18 days receiving a lethal dose of chemo that only a stem cell transplant could save me from.

    Cancer affects people close to the patient as much as (albeit differently than) the patient.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Dana, I wish you the best of luck and the warmest of wishes during your fight. One thing that cancer teaches us (yes, oncologists too) is that life is hard, but- despite the trials and tribulations- life is sweet too. D

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