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. appomannoni

    erectile kayamy erectile vacuum pump costs
    erectile pumps and rings slilicy can erectile dysfunction be temporary
    does erectile dysfunction end sicAdofs erectile band

    June 9, 2021 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Bret Pinta

    Hello there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I will send this article to him. Pretty sure he's going to have a great read. I appreciate you for sharing!

    June 9, 2021 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sidney Pittelkow

    I really like reading through a post that can make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing me to comment!

    June 9, 2021 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Micro Frontends

    188763 976530Yours is really a prime example of informative writing. I believe my students could learn a good deal from your writing style and your content. I may share this post with them. 348000

    June 9, 2021 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. EncoxGtv

    canada otc drugs shoppers pharmacy Desyrel

    June 9, 2021 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ZisseVed

    cialis without prescriptions when should i take cialis for best results cialis user reviews

    June 9, 2021 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Video Marketing Near Me

    http://10forex.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=getmoneysocial.com/

    June 9, 2021 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Eleni Alamia

    The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn't fail me just as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, nonetheless I truly thought you'd have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something you could fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

    https://cesary48o0.blogcudinti.com/4118259/a-secret-weapon-for-social-media-marketing-near-me

    June 9, 2021 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. MileSwa

    buy cialis from india cialis black generic cialis 20 mg

    June 9, 2021 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. appomannoni

    erectile restoration kayamy erectile dysfunction when trying to conceive
    erectile pill sponsored by doctor oz slilicy what cause erectile dysfunction
    best erectile dysfunction pills online sicAdofs erectile therapy

    June 9, 2021 at 22:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. pressure washing services merritt island

    Great article. Couldn't be write much better! Keep it up!

    http://drpetepublishing.com/members/bondwhitehead92/activity/457778/

    June 10, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. pressure washing near merritt island

    Great article. Couldn't be write much better! Keep it up!

    http://yaffa48.braveblog.com/entry/14557

    June 10, 2021 at 01:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Lexie Niederer

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually feel this amazing site needs much more attention. Iíll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!

    http://www.bshare.cn/share?url=https://donovani18y7.link4blogs.com/24017659/the-2-minute-rule-for-repair-shop

    June 10, 2021 at 02:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. pressure washing services merritt island

    such a great information for blogger i am a professional blogger thanks

    https://www.wattpad.com/user/svenstrupwhite

    June 10, 2021 at 02:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. rv repair near me

    Right here is the perfect webpage for everyone who would like to understand this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject that's been discussed for ages. Excellent stuff, just excellent!

    http://blog.tieonline.com/feedtie/feed2js.php?src=http://bathroomdesignrenovation.blogspot.com/2020/08/small-rv-bathroom-remodel.html/

    June 10, 2021 at 03:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Austin Smialowski

    Great article! We will be linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the great writing.

    http://marcoj29e9.alltdesign.com/great-importance-of-appointed-date-powerful-day-in-restructuring-21238153

    June 10, 2021 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. pressure washing around Brevard County

    Thank You for your information

    https://imle.gen.tv.tr/Siteler/a-quick-overview-of-force-washing-services-for-roof-cleansing/

    June 10, 2021 at 05:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. EncoxAni

    online pharmacy coupons canadian pharmacies compare Etodolac

    June 10, 2021 at 05:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. pressure washing Brevard County fl

    nice information for a new blogger. it is really helpful

    https://yogicentral.science/wiki/A_Quick_Overview_of_Pressure_Washing_Services_for_Roof_Cleansing

    June 10, 2021 at 06:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. pressure washing companies Brevard County fl

    Great article. Couldn't be write much better! Keep it up!

    https://turanatkins03.bladejournal.com/post/2021/05/30/A-Quick-Overview-of-Stress-Washing-Support-for-Roof-Cleaning

    June 10, 2021 at 06:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. appomannoni

    erectile booster method book kayamy buy erectile dysfunction meds
    erectile winstrol slilicy erectile discomfort
    erectile function restored after turp sicAdofs which erectile dysfunction pills work

    June 10, 2021 at 06:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. does payday loan consolidation work

    Great article. Couldn't be write much better! Keep it up!

    https://www.motoclub-les-voleurs-de-poules.org/all-you-will-need-to-comprehend-about-payday-loans/

    June 10, 2021 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Epifania Gentelia

    http://donovani82x3.dsiblogger.com/31558614/craft-store-can-be-fun-for-anyone

    June 10, 2021 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. rv repair

    I blog often and I genuinely appreciate your information. This article has truly peaked my interest. I'm going to take a note of your website and keep checking for new details about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed too.

    https://www.baoviet.com.vn/Redirect.aspx?URL=https://www.ingenieurleistungenreiter.com/index.php?option=com_phocaguestbook&view=phocaguestbook&id=1&Itemid=4&t=1340&limitstart=42740/

    June 10, 2021 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Adam Sawin

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the most useful websites on the web. I most certainly will highly recommend this web site!

    June 10, 2021 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Alonzo Glucksman

    I really like it when people come together and share opinions. Great site, keep it up!

    http://www.bshare.cn/share?url=https://simonm31g0.blogproducer.com/5945216/about-digital-marketing-agency

    June 10, 2021 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. appomannoni

    erectile disorder icd 10 kayamy erectile dysfunction reviews
    erectile disease quiz slilicy erectile booster method reviews
    erectile synonym sicAdofs erectile pump reviews

    June 10, 2021 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Delmy Leggette

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you need to publish more on this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but typically folks don't discuss these subjects. To the next! Kind regards!!

    http://damienz36c4.slypage.com/5523007/worth-of-appointed-date-successful-day-in-restructuring

    June 10, 2021 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. rv repair service near me

    http://channel.iezvu.com/share/UnboxingyanálisisdeChromecast2?page=https://www.kakakunavi.jp/detail.php?url=ocrvfleetservices.com

    June 10, 2021 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. appomannoni

    10 best erectile supplements kayamy erectile dysfunction treatment
    erectile strength slilicy erectile function clinic in san antonio
    does erectile dysfunction cause infertility sicAdofs do erectile sprays work

    June 10, 2021 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Gail Mickonis

    May I just say what a comfort to find a person that actually understands what they're talking about on the net. You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people must look at this and understand this side of your story. It's surprising you are not more popular since you most certainly possess the gift.

    June 10, 2021 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Ivonne Asher

    https://tieba.baidu.com/mo/q/checkurl?url=https://jaspert38p1.review-blogger.com/23767754/personal-injury-lawyer-fundamentals-explained

    June 11, 2021 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Federated Financial

    Keep this going please, great job!

    https://www.federatedfinancial.com/

    June 11, 2021 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Rosaura Zoldesy

    https://dallasg69l7.ltfblog.com/4071009/a-simple-key-for-maserati-mc12-unveiled

    June 11, 2021 at 02:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. appomannoni

    erectile definition kayamy natural erectile supplements
    erectile band slilicy erectile supplements
    how erectile dysfunction affects reproduction sicAdofs is erectile dysfunction secondary to ptsd

    June 11, 2021 at 05:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. rv repair shops

    https://es.paltalk.com/client/webapp/client/External.wmt?url=https://fbcfinancas.com.br/blog/2019/11/10/juros-caem-em-setembro-mas-ainda-sao-abusivos

    June 11, 2021 at 07:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Virgil Evers

    Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful article. Thank you for supplying these details.

    June 11, 2021 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Steven Alicandro

    Good blog you've got here.. Itís hard to find good quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

    http://dominicko04g7.bloggerswise.com/5312364/repair-shop-things-to-know-before-you-buy

    June 11, 2021 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Nicholas Lizak

    This blog was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Cheers!

    https://www.treasury.gov/cgi-bin/redirect.cgi/?https://www.dallasg69l7.ltfblog.com/4080579/indicators-on-digital-marketing-agencies-near-me-you-should-know

    June 11, 2021 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Lera Then

    The very next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won't disappoint me as much as this particular one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, but I actually believed you would have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you can fix if you weren't too busy looking for attention.

    https://creativecommons.org/choose/results-one?field_attribute_to_url=https://codyc96w6.blogolenta.com/5285018/a-simple-key-for-rv-body-shop-unveiled

    June 11, 2021 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. appomannoni

    erectile dysfunction in children kayamy best erectile dysfunction natural remedies
    erectile dysfunction symptoms slilicy discount erectile dysfunction drugs
    what does erectile dysfunction mean sicAdofs erectile disorder icd 10

    June 11, 2021 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. near me

    Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!

    barber

    June 11, 2021 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. travel trailer inspection near me

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying these details.

    https://www.podcastone.com/site/rd?satype=40&said=4&aaid=email&camid=-4999600036534929178&url=https://ocrvcenter.biz

    June 11, 2021 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Technician Shop

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am having problems with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having identical RSS issues? Anybody who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    http://stayvertical.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=sprinterrepairnearme.com/

    June 11, 2021 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. RV Bedroom Orange County

    http://artsupermarket.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=www.ocrvcenter.co

    June 11, 2021 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. appomannoni

    cialis without erectile dysfunction kayamy erectile incontinence
    erectile vitimans slilicy erectile pills
    erectile supplement gnc sicAdofs who treats erectile dysfunction

    June 11, 2021 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Van Rust Repair

    Iím impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog thatís both equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something too few people are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy I came across this in my search for something relating to this.

    http://hairsalon-web.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=commercialrepairshop.com/

    June 11, 2021 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Repair Service Near Me

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest websites online. I will highly recommend this blog!

    http://seekinstantly.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=campervanrepairshop.com

    June 11, 2021 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. the truck shop orange

    http://www.cribbit.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrv.tv

    June 12, 2021 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. raleigh car body shop

    A great read. I'll definitely be back.

    https://www.lrp-forum.com/auto-body-repairs-work-for-budgets/

    June 12, 2021 at 01:34 | 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 Window washing Denver


 

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.