As an oncologist, I thought I had the words to console the survivors

As an oncologist, I thought I had the words to console the survivorsOn Friday morning I was seeing a patient, chatting about the holidays. She had given me a gingerbread house making kit for my kids — which she had done annually since I had become her doctor.

“You are doing so well,” I declared, “Have a very Merry Christmas!”

“You too!” she said as we hugged and she left the examination room.

At 12pm I arrived at a meeting (a little late-ish) and while in the waiting room, glimpsed at the TV. On the news was a breaking story that literally shook me to my very core. There was a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. Before Friday, I had only vaguely heard of Newtown — it was 20 minutes from Waterbury CT, where I had my first attending job as a clinician-educator with the Yale Primary Care Program, based at St. Mary’s Hospital.

The news would only get worse. As the day went on, we learned there were casualties — two were reported at first, then more, and by the end of the day, we had learned that 28 people were dead. But on hearing that among them were 20 children, ages 6 and 7 my heart broke. I have followed the stories since Friday, seen the faces of the victims, read the biographies of the children, and have followed the funerals that began yesterday. And I have cried.

I do not know any of the families affected by this violence, but as a parent of twin preschoolers and a rambunctious but amazing 5th grader, this is far too close to home. President Obama described parenthood in the only way I can make sense of my reaction:

Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

This is me; my children are my heart. And I cannot help but draw parallels of my own life with those who lost their children. Those parents were my peers- similar in age group, their children were my children’s age. Noah Pozner had a twin sister, who he reportedly described as his “best friend”; it is how my own “little man” refers to his twin sister. Because of this, I cannot bear the pain and heartbreak of seeing this tragedy unfold; of imagining being robbed even of a final opportunity to say goodbye to your too-young children.

This week I have been immersed in the collective grief of a mourning nation that stands with those in Newtown, CT. As an oncologist, I thought I had the words that can console survivors at the time of death of their loved ones. But, apparently in situations like this, even I am rendered speechless.

“Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy .. Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.”
-President Obama.

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

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