home
RSS
Why I became an oncologist
An unidentified patient goes through chemotherapy treatment.
June 3rd, 2011
07:10 AM ET

Why I became an oncologist

Editor's note: George Sledge, M.D., is president of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, the organization of America’s cancer doctors, whose annual meeting begins today. Treating cancer can be an extraordinarily difficult field, guiding patients on a roller coaster ride of fear, pain and sometimes true exhilaration. Dr. Sledge shares the story of the patient who made him decide to become an oncologist.

Cancer doctors tend to get to their profession in one of three ways. Some are drawn in through their love of cancer science. Cancer has always been something like a cobra to those who study it: dangerous and beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Cancer is a universe. One can spend an entire life exploring it without ever getting bored, for the biology of cancer is the biology of life.

Some doctors are inspired by a great teacher. Medicine is still a profession dominated by old-world apprenticeships, where a mentor’s passion can be transmitted to a new generation. I have known several oncologists whose careers turned on chance encounters with inspiring professors.

Others get there by way of their patients. I’m one of these. When I was a resident, cancer patients were the ones who touched my heart. In fact, I can remember the very moment I started my path to becoming an oncologist.

I was an intern at St. Louis University, a brand-new doctor, with my white coat still fresh and creased, when I first met Carmelita Steele. Carmelita was in her early twenties, married, with (as I recall) two young children. She came to our hospital as a transfer in the middle of the night. She had undergone a routine dental procedure, and after her surgery had first oozed, and then gushed blood. By the time she got to us she was severely anemic, and had a low platelet count. There was a very real concern in those first few hours that she would bleed to death.

We worked through the night stabilizing her. Her veins were hard to access–they had all been used up during her time at the other hospital. In those days (the late 1970's) we lacked modern venous access devices, and I remember it taking a frighteningly long time establishing an intravenous line. Through it all I spoke to Carmie, who was a cheerful if appropriately anxious African-American woman, somewhat overweight, proud of her children and her loving family. We poured several units of blood into her that night, bringing her back from the brink.

We spent the next couple of days establishing a diagnosis. She had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, then as now a dangerous disease requiring toxic chemotherapy to clear the blood and bone marrow of treacherous cells. I learned the diagnosis shortly after morning rounds. Her staff doctor, an elderly hematologist (or so he seemed then, though I am now about his age) would, I discovered, be off campus until the following morning. I knew that Carmie and her family were desperate for news, so I phoned the staff physician and asked if it was OK for me to speak to her. He agreed.

I had never told a patient that he or she had cancer before. I sat on the edge of her bed and told her that she had a type of leukemia, that it was very dangerous but that it was potentially curable with chemotherapy. I told her that we would be starting treatment the following morning, as soon as her staff physician had a chance to go over the drug regimen with her.

Carmelita had sat quietly while I spoke, a sad look on her face. When I was through she said, almost in a whisper, "Doctor Sledge, who will take care of my children?"

It was the last thing I was expecting, and it was thoroughly devastating. I did not know how to answer. Today I hope I would do better, but at the time I was in my mid-twenties, just a few years older than Carmie, and I did not know how to answer that question. I stammered something, barely maintaining my composure, and then left her room and hid in a stairwell for a half an hour sobbing.

The next day we started her chemotherapy regimen, full of hope. I spoke to her regularly, and to her family. Her husband, a quiet decent man, stood by looking worried. Her mother, a medical technician who understood leukemia, rarely left her daughter's bedside. They were the sort of family we all should have.

For several days things went well. Then, as her blood counts plummeted in response to the chemotherapy, she developed an infection in the area of her intravenous line, followed by sepsis. Her blood pressure dropped, and her breathing became rapid and labored. She was transferred to the intensive care unit, intubated, and treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics. Sometime in the middle of the night, disoriented and alone, she pulled the breathing tube out of her mouth. Though she was quickly re-intubated, things rapidly went from bad to worse, and she died the following day.

I went home that night in a furiously angry mood. I was supposed to be going out with my girlfriend, but in my grief and guilt I simply could not think straight or act civil, so I begged off. I relived every moment of her care: what had I missed, what could I have done differently, what foul-up had I committed that kept a 22 year-old from taking care of her young children? It is the arrogance of interns that they believe that acute leukemia would turn out differently if only they had gotten a little more sleep.

A few weeks later I got a call from Carmelita's mother. She wanted to meet with me. I agreed, with real trepidation. The wound was still too raw, and there was part of me that feared she might hold me responsible for her daughter's passing.

But she was as gracious as I could ever have imagined. I have three sons, all in their twenties, and if one of them died of leukemia I do not know how I would handle it. Poorly, I suspect. But she was dignified, pleasant and grateful. She told me that Carmie, before she had died, had told her that, come what may, she wanted to give me a gift to thank me for my care, and for the hours I had spent with her. She then handed me $40 and told me I was to spend it on something fun. Carmie had wanted it that way.

My patients, starting with Carmelita Steele, have taught me so much about what it means to be a good doctor and, I hope, a good person. I am an oncologist because of her, and it is a job I have loved for three decades. But Carmelita's question still haunts me: "who will take care of my children?"

There are some debts you can never repay.

Post by:
Filed under: Cancer

soundoff (1,353 Responses)
  1. Vanlife Repair Costs For Mercedes Sprinter

    Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying these details.

    https://trucktown.ru/go.php?https://sprinterrepairnearme.com

    June 5, 2021 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. nearby rv repair

    http://server.tongbu.com/tbcloud/gmzb/gmzb.aspx?appleid=699470139&from=tui_jump&source=4001&url=https://ocrv.fun/rv-repair-shop-palmdale-california

    June 5, 2021 at 08:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. hertz near me

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering problems with your RSS. I donít know why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

    https://v7196.funny.ge/redirect.php?url=http://bestservicenearme.com/

    June 5, 2021 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Social Media Marketing Agency Near Me

    http://southgroupgulfcoast.mysharebar.com/view?iframe=http://internetmarketingoregon.com

    June 5, 2021 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Authorized Sprinter Repair Facility

    http://www.rcdtechnology.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=sprintervanrepairshop.com/

    June 5, 2021 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Chevy G20 Van Repair

    http://misssc.isinproduction.com/Redirect.aspx?destination=http://www.ocrvcenter.mobi

    June 5, 2021 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. appomannoni

    is erectile dysfunction dangerous kayamy erectile quality monitor
    does erectile dysfunction pills work slilicy help with erectile dysfunction naturally
    erectile stimulant sicAdofs erectile means

    June 5, 2021 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. appomannoni

    yoga for erectile dysfunction kayamy erectile function questionnaire
    can erectile dysfunction come on suddenly slilicy erectile remedies
    can erectile dysfunction be fixed sicAdofs help with erectile dysfunction

    June 5, 2021 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sprinter Fuel Filler Pipe Repair

    http://m.adlf.jp/jump.php?l=http://sprinterrepairnearme.com/

    June 6, 2021 at 04:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. appomannoni

    solutions to erectile dysfunction kayamy erectile function healthy dads healthy kids
    does erectile disfunction affect mastarbation slilicy erectile pumps
    erectile organ sicAdofs erectile wow video

    June 6, 2021 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. seats near me

    https://www.grantrequest.com/SID_1268/default4.asp?SA=EXIT&url=https://ocrv.us/rv-repair-shop-glendale-california

    June 6, 2021 at 05:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. electronic stores near me

    Iím amazed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog thatís both equally educative and amusing, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which too few folks are speaking intelligently about. Now i'm very happy I stumbled across this during my search for something concerning this.

    http://www.calientecasinoresorts.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=bjsnearme.com/

    June 6, 2021 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. hydroxychloroquine sulfate oval pill

    chloroquine natural sources trump hydroxychloroquine chloroquin side effects

    June 6, 2021 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. appomannoni

    erectile suppliers kayamy erectile hardening cream
    help with erectile dysfunction slilicy erectile disorder dsm 5
    erectile disorder symptoms sicAdofs erectile d with matt lauer

    June 6, 2021 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Service B Mercedes Sprinter

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this post plus the rest of the website is very good.

    http://ajman.dubaicityguide.com/main/advertise.asp?oldurl=https://www.sprintervanrepairshop.com/

    June 6, 2021 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. appomannoni

    erectile prescription pills kayamy erectile dysfunction symptoms
    erectile shots slilicy erectile pills online india
    erectile organ sicAdofs is erectile dysfunction common

    June 6, 2021 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. cost tadalafil generic

    tadalafil troche where to buy cialis without prescription what is tadalafil 20mg

    June 6, 2021 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. appomannoni

    alcohol induced erectile dysfunction kayamy erectile dysfunction causes
    erectile vacuum pump for sale slilicy erectile organs crossword clue
    erectile pillole sicAdofs erectile function index 5

    June 7, 2021 at 05:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. CrulkAsd

    cialis dapoxetine cialis online fast cialis 800mg black

    June 7, 2021 at 05:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. EncoxGtv

    top pharmacy universities in canada pharmacy online 365 compare pharmacy prices

    June 7, 2021 at 05:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. EncoxAni

    discount rx pharmacy pharmacies canadian legitimate online pharmacy usa

    June 7, 2021 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. chloroquine over the counter uk

    hydroxychloroquine sulfate 200 chloroquine for malaria hydroclorquin

    June 7, 2021 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Van Repair Near Me

    http://ww31.geocontrol2.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=theocrv.com

    June 7, 2021 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. rv parts san diego ca

    Very good info. Lucky me I recently found your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I have book marked it for later!

    https://go.onelink.me/v1xd?pid=Patch&c=Mobile Footer&af_web_dp=http://ocrvluxurycoaches.com/rv-repair-shop-maywood-california

    June 7, 2021 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. MileSwa

    cialis 20 mg best price cialis generic cialis coupon printable

    June 7, 2021 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mercedes Sprinter Cowel Panel Rust Repair

    I enjoy looking through a post that will make people think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!

    http://aapexexpo.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=www.sprintervanrepairnearme.com/

    June 7, 2021 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. appomannoni

    erectile health news kayamy can erectile dysfunction be revewsw
    erectile medication over counter slilicy erectile trick
    erectile tissue in men sicAdofs erectile therapy

    June 7, 2021 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. oc windshield

    I need to to thank you for this very good read!! I absolutely enjoyed every little bit of it. I've got you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff you postÖ

    https://mitsui-shopping-park.com/lalaport/ebina/redirect.html?url=https://ocrvluxurycoaches.com/rv-repair-shop-montclair-california

    June 8, 2021 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. rv shower upgrade

    You've made some really good points there. I checked on the net for more info about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.

    https://client.paltalk.com/client/webapp/client/External.wmt?url=http://ocrv.mobi/rv-photos

    June 8, 2021 at 02:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. auto body paint shops near me

    http://affiliate.joomla-monster.com/idevaffiliate.php?id=789&url=http://ingenieurleistungenreiter.com/index.php?option=com_phocaguestbook&view=phocaguestbook&id=1&Itemid=4&t=720&limitstart=66480

    June 8, 2021 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RV Repair Riverside

    https://dmca.com/Protection/Status.aspx?ID=edc817fd-d796-4c84-abb8-d1cb5b2e3719&refurl=http://beritarakyat.asia/tol-jakarta-cikampek-macet-coba-alternatid-jalur-puncak/

    June 8, 2021 at 02:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. appomannoni

    erectile on demand reviews kayamy how erectile dysfunction affects men
    erectile disorder vs erectile dysfunction slilicy erectile issues
    erectile destroyer sicAdofs is erectile dysfunction real

    June 8, 2021 at 05:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. CrulkAsd

    free samples of cialis cialis nova scotia stockists of cialis

    June 8, 2021 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. ZisseVed

    cialis shipped from usa where can i get cialis overnite when do i take cialis

    June 8, 2021 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. appomannoni

    is erectile dysfunction a disability kayamy review erectile dysfunction pump
    erectile stimulator slilicy erectile problems
    erectile vitamins sicAdofs is erectile dysfunction covered by insurance

    June 8, 2021 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. EncoxDev

    pharmacy orlando Super Kamagra canada drugs laws

    June 8, 2021 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. appomannoni

    erectile pills without a doctor prescription kayamy erectile pills online india
    is erectile dysfunction dangerous slilicy online doctor erectile dysfunction
    erectile winstrol sicAdofs erectile vacuum

    June 8, 2021 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Renovation California

    Everyone loves it when folks get together and share thoughts. Great site, keep it up!

    https://dmca.com/Protection/Status.aspx?ID=edc817fd-d796-4c84-abb8-d1cb5b2e3719&refurl=https://www.ingenieurleistungenreiter.com/index.php?option=com_phocaguestbook&view=phocaguestbook&id=1&Itemid=4&t=760&limitstart=83280

    June 9, 2021 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. bus repair shops

    https://smart.link/5bb788a3d5b83?site_id=Web_NBCS_Philly&creative_id=nbcsphi1356&cp_4=ocrv.biz/rv-repair-shop-garden-grove-california

    June 9, 2021 at 02:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. cheap baseball jerseys

    I have been surfing online more than 2 hours today,
    yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It's pretty worth enough for me. Personally,
    if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you
    did, the web will be a lot more useful than ever before.
    https://zenwriting.net/tjbip6o6sd https://zenwriting.net/9rr7977exl https://www.liveinternet.ru/users/x7ppyph967/post484134960//

    Here is my blog post ... cheap baseball jerseys

    June 9, 2021 at 03:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. pressure washing around melbourne fl

    Enjoyed reading the article above , really explains everything in detail,the article is very interesting and effective.Thank you and good luck for the upcoming articles. Flooring Installers of Pittsburgh, 1933 Crafton Blvd #5, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, (412) 415-7629

    https://backforgood.faith/wiki/Strain_Washing_Companies_Finest_Way_to_Revamp_Your_Household

    June 9, 2021 at 03:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. oc body shop

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me breakfast because I discovered it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this matter here on your blog.

    http://www.fms.treas.gov/fmsweb/disclaimer.jsp?ciURL=http://www.raycornelius.com/2014/01/nas-honored-during-2nd-annual-vibe-impact-awards-photos-video/

    June 9, 2021 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. pressure washing near me

    this is very informative and intersting for those who are interested in blogging field. Flooring Installers of Pittsburgh, 1933 Crafton Blvd #5, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, (412) 415-7629

    http://www.bodymindcoaching.biz/blog/2017/05/05/forest-bathing-what-it-is-and-why-its-healthy

    June 9, 2021 at 03:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. pressure washing around melbourne

    Found your post interesting to read. I cant wait to see your post soon. Good Luck for the upcoming update.This article is really very interesting and effective. Flooring Installers of Pittsburgh, 1933 Crafton Blvd #5, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, (412) 415-7629

    https://myemotion.faith/wiki/A_Quick_Overview_of_Tension_Washing_Support_for_Roof_Cleaning

    June 9, 2021 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. pressure washing services melbourne

    I really like this post. Flooring Installers of Pittsburgh, 1933 Crafton Blvd #5, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, (412) 415-7629

    https://diigo.com/0kppct

    June 9, 2021 at 04:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. EncoxAni

    online pharmacy pain meds Paxil canada pharmacies online

    June 9, 2021 at 04:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. pressure washing services melbourne

    Flooring Installers of Pittsburgh, 1933 Crafton Blvd #5, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, (412) 415-7629

    https://digeratideals.com/how-much-will-a-tension-washing-provider-expense-you/

    June 9, 2021 at 04:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. EncoxHtf

    cheap t jet 60 cialis online cialis grapefruit cialis leg pain

    June 9, 2021 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Internet Marketing Service Near Me

    http://www.qeqqata.gl/API/Forwarding/ForwardTo/?url=http://www.gomode.tv/

    June 9, 2021 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Zisseloh

    paypal cialis tadalafil cialis vs viagra side effects does cialis help premature ejaculation

    June 9, 2021 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Leave a Reply to rv shower upgrade


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.