I could never have anticipated how much the field of oncology would excite me. As a teenager, I chose to volunteer with pediatric oncology patients on a whim. I found myself fascinated, and deeply humbled by the psycho-social challenges that these young patients and their families face. I found my way to medicine, and I wondered whether the medical field of oncology would be similarly intriguing to me.
It was. It was exciting for me to understand the patient population I cared so deeply about on an even more intimate level, as I began to make sense of the medical language and decision-making that so impacts these lives. As a medical student, I have had the privilege of caring for patients with a variety of cancers. I have helped care for patients with gynecologic cancers such as ovarian cancer, medically manage adult and pediatric cancers like leukemias and lymphomas, as well as surgically remove cancers like breast cancer and metastasized melanoma.
As I reflect on all my patients over this past year, my fondest memories come from caring for oncology patients. In the face of such a serious and devastating disease like cancer, I feel as though my relationships with patients were even more meaningful. I am grateful to have found a field that not only allows but encourages me to develop such intimate relationships while I care for people.
World Cancer Day is yet another opportunity for us to remember that cancer, like the human race, is inherently diverse. While we strive to find “the cure for cancer,” we must all remember how different each type of cancer is, as well as the great variety in how these cancers inhabit different bodies. Perhaps most importantly, cancer also affects each individual in a unique and unpredictable way. This month is a chance to appreciate the breadth and depth of all that people go through with cancer.
To me, World Cancer Day is a reminder that while we’ve made incredible progress over the years, we have so far to go. I am excited by the HPV vaccine, and the opportunities that we have for early cancer screening. I am encouraged by the Cancer Moonshot initiative and other efforts to fund further research. I look forward to increased awareness, as more people understand the harms of smoking and take steps toward cessation.
With this new year, I am realizing just how much I have learned about the biological disease of cancer, the clinical management and, most important to me, the challenges that people with cancer can face throughout and because of their treatments. With each new year, more people are diagnosed with cancer, but more people are also dedicating themselves to the cause of cancer. I look forward to seeing what this new year will hold.
Trisha Paul is a third year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School who graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Honors English. She recently published the book Chronicling Childhood Cancer: A Collection of Personal Stories by Children and Teens with Cancer, and she aspires to become a pediatric oncologist and pediatric palliative care physician. Trisha chronicles her explorations in learning, researching, and teaching about illness narratives at illnessnarratives.com.