At the age of sixteen, I was volunteering at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in the recreational therapy department on the oncology floor. It was then that I witnessed what a diagnosis of cancer can do to a child and a family. In many ways, such a diagnosis not only unravels one’s world but also the worlds of those around them.
What struck a chord with me personally was the team of people from physicians to social workers, nurses, and volunteers who did their best to support the patient and family to help pick up the pieces wherever they may fall. Sometimes it was the little things that made all the difference.
I helped organize camping trips, fishing trips and proms for the pediatric oncology patients and their siblings in an attempt to help maintain a sense of normalcy. I learned to become a part of these patients’ support systems.
Often times, I would see these children at their weakest moments – hospitalized when severely ill and unable to leave their rooms for fear of worsening infection. The best times were when I had the chance to see them at the end of their treatment; healthy and able to participate in a week-long camping trip, unattached to IV lines and without hospital wrist bands.
The prospect of being able to help patients when faced with a terrifying diagnosis is what initially drew me into the field of oncology. I believe it is a vulnerable time and physicians can truly make a difference as lives are changed after a diagnosis. I have volunteered on a medical mission to Uganda and seen what lives are like without access to modern medicine; where treatable ailments become a permanent fixture in one’s life and where lives are shortened too soon due to lack of access to care.
My diverse training has given me a wider perspective, from working with the uninsured in the health care safety net of a county health system to working at a comprehensive cancer center with countless clinical trials available.
The field of oncology is constantly changing. As we understand more about the biology of cancer, treatment options increase and we are better able to improve outcomes as well as quality of life. Treating cancer is not only about treating a disease, but treating a person as a whole. I believe that is best done within a comprehensive cancer center. This why I am excited to join the Integrated Cancer Institute.