Cancer Survivor and Oncologist Share a Moment of Joy

No more tumor growth.

That’s the news my friend Sterz received last week from his oncologist after a scare in November 2010, when a periodic MRI found an anomaly at the site where he had surgery for brain cancer 4 years ago—a procedure that left him with loss of motor control on the right side of body and occasional struggles with language production.

Sterz and his son, Calder.

An artist from my home town of Rochester, N.Y. , Sterz is like a brother to me. He lived with our family when I was a junior in high school, and I credit him for helping me to establish a healthy relationship with my older brother, who befriended Sterz in high school.

About a week before his follow-up MRI, Sterz reached out to me, despondent. He’s a single father in his 40s who adores his young son, Calder, and I could sense he was letting some dark thoughts in—chief among them wondering what kind of news this MRI would bring.

I share with his permission some passages from an e-mail he sent to me after his appointment:

“I went to have another MRI yesterday. An hour and a half on my back, I could not twitch an inch. Agonizing. The MRI center is in the basement of Strong Memorial Hospital and the Cancer Center is on the 1st floor. Special K (his nickname for oncologist Dr. David N. Korones) had viewed the scans already and was at the entrance door awaiting my arrival …

“I was anxious to see the scans and the Doc could tell. I pulled up a chair next to his. I looked at the scans, side by side. Viewing the scan I had 3 months ago, with the anomalies, and the scan I had only moments ago, I was astonished. On one image [the anomaly] was gone. Totally gone. On other scans, it had significantly diminished. Special K said, ‘I don’t know how you did it, but the tumor shrank.’ We sat there in his office, both kind of stunned and elated at the same time.

“I had confidence that I could stop the growth of the tumor and Special K had suggested it had dissipated somewhat in the past. I am a tenacious man and I have given up many, many pleasures and vices and I have many supporters to thank, but I can only assign credit for the abatement and the withdrawal of the tumor to the God that I pray to.”

Sterz savored the relief he felt at the good news he received that day. But what of the oncologist? What’s it like to prepare yourself to deliver devastation, but instead be able to hand joy back to your patient? It seems to me that that exchange is at the very heart of what it means to be a doctor — at least the kind of doctor I would want to care for me.

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

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Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Oncology, Surgery

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