You can do this.
You can do this.

Medical Series

Beverly, 69

Part 1: INDESCRIBABLE

It’s so hard to describe what went on in my body. It first hit me 20 years ago and at times has completely debilitated me. The most challenging part was how my symptoms changed so quickly. By the time I got into the doctor’s office, they had changed again. To relay my symptoms to the doctor made me sound crazy. (“Really, lady??”) There were muscle twitchings inside and jerkings and tremors outside.  My head felt fogged over. My doctor always said, “You’re one of my healthiest patients!”, but there were times my legs were so weak that I couldn’t hold myself up. Some days, my only goal was to take a shower. How can something get that bad and not even know what it is?  My doctor thought I had Parkinson’s, but several neurologists weren’t sure. Then they decided to do all the MRIs. Lying in that machine, I occupied my mind by attempting to recite the 23rd Psalm over and over. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Part 2: VICTORY

Months later, my red letter day arrived. I walked to the mailbox and back! Granted, it wasn't that far.  I told my husband I wanted to try, and he said, “Okay, I’ll watch you from the window.” It was a very slow process, but I did it. Unbelievable that it took so much effort, but it felt good to achieve this small goal. I still have occasional symptoms. I feel that it's something that brews in my body and I don’t know what might trigger it or if it will aggressively return.  It gives me great compassion for those who struggle to be diagnosed. There are times when I’m doing simple things like walking and driving and I feel so GRATEFUL that right now, in this moment, I feel well.

Jessica, 33

Part 1: JUDGED

At the end of my neurology residency, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the last thing I was expecting. My treatment options were lumpectomy plus radiation plus years of hormone therapy or… double mastectomy.  At that time, I was just about to start fellowship and start trying to get pregnant. The mastectomies would allow my career and my family to keep moving forward, so I wanted to quickly proceed with the surgery, but my doctors were pushing hard against it. “You’re young. You want to spare your breasts. You will want to breastfeed someday.” They tried to impress me with the data, the studies that showed similar survival for either choice, indicating that double mastectomies were “unnecessary”. They didn’t understand my priorities, didn’t understand that I would rather have a child now than be able to breastfeed after finishing treatment 5-10 years from now. I had a life plan and I wanted to stick to it. I felt so much judgement from them, as if the choice I was making was irrational and wrong. I was enmeshed with my doctors who treated me like a physician instead of a patient, and at the same time I felt completely disconnected from the medical community.

Part 2: MOTHERHOOD

I had the mastectomies in July of 2015, started fellowship a few weeks later, underwent reconstruction in October, and was pregnant by February. My doctors kept warning me, “Be prepared to feel really bad that you can't breastfeed. Other mothers will judge you.  You’re going to feel bad.” I had all this horrible anticipation about not being able to do something everyone seemed to think was essential to motherhood. Then, my son was born, and there was this beautiful moment in the hospital where he was lying on my chest and drinking from a bottle. We were bonding, and he was eating fine. I thought, “I'm a mom, and none of that other stuff matters.” The moment that I saw that my decision was not going to impact my ability to be a mom, that's when all the stress of that decision disappeared. It just became nothing. I have never regretted the choice I made, and if anything the experience has made me a better doctor and a better mother.

 

 

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© Erin Reeve, MD