Canada News

Get the latest new in Candada


My patients became my ‘doctors’ when I was diagnosed with cancer

This First Person column is the experience of Dr. Nhung N. Tran-Davies, who lives in Calmar, Alta. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

A singing and dancing Christmas tree.

Who would’ve thought that one day I — someone who holds professionalism in the workplace to the highest standards — would be rocking and swinging my hips to a little green gyrating Christmas tree in my very own medical clinic? 

To top it off, I had reindeer ears on, too. I wasn’t self-conscious in that moment and the staff were howling with laughter at the sight — all thanks to one of our wonderful patients. 

It was a much-welcomed distraction and my spirits were lifted for the first time in a long while since life flipped upside down not only for me but everyone connected to me.

Life’s journey is, indeed, always full of surprises and curveballs. The curveball I was not expecting, even in my worst nightmare, was being diagnosed in late October with Stage 4 colorectal cancer when I was a couple months short of my 50th birthday.

The kicker in this is that I am a family doctor. I should have known better as I have spent virtually every day of the last 20 years examining patients, chasing labs, investigating minute concerns, preventing and managing patient illnesses.

I knew all the red flags for colorectal cancer to warrant a doctor’s visit: bowel changes and bleeding. But having done a bit of travelling in the six months prior, I attributed the changes to travel and hemorrhoids and basically, minimized all concerns, even when the symptoms didn’t resolve.

My downfall was thinking that I was invincible. I am a vegetarian of healthy weight who doesn’t smoke or drink. Seeing my mom at 88 still going strong and me not being of the age to even start screening, I further ignored what my body was trying to tell me.

A woman smiles holding a book which reads Green Papayas.
Tran-Davies says her downfall was thinking that she was invincible, being that she is a vegetarian of healthy weight and doesn’t smoke or drink. (Submitted by Nhung N. Tran-Davies)

I just didn’t have time to be sick or to even listen to my body with my busy medical practice, family commitments and other activities. Plus, my one silly foible is not liking to go see doctors. I’ve saved the health-care system lots of money over the years. I suppose you can say, I was healthy by default. 

I was forced to go into emergency when my body finally screamed at me because the cancer was causing a blockage of my bowels.

I was devastated, of course, when an urgent colonoscopy and further imaging confirmed it was Stage 4 colorectal cancer that had spread to the liver. Basically, the prognosis for Stage 4 isn’t great, with statistics quoting a five-year survival rate of about one in 10.

I cried. And I cried a lot for all the crushed dreams of seeing my three children graduate and blossom, find their true loves and holding my grandbabies. I cried for all the crushed dreams of seeing more of the world, walking through the woods, dancing under the moonlight and just growing old with my other half.

Everything happens for a reason

I was in an emotional funk, a dark place of hopelessness and confusion.

I’ve always believed in the universe and that everything happens for a reason. I’m still trying to understand what that reason is for me right now, but my cancer journey has taught me to see and truly appreciate the depth, breadth, and height of the extraordinary love from all those near and far who’ve walked alongside me.

A woman with short hair looks straight ahead at the camera.
Tran-Davies says she was able to get through surgery and is now tolerating chemo better than expected. (Submitted by Nhung N. Tran-Davies)

I was actually initially reluctant to disclose my health issues to my patients, because it was my own personal battle. However, I came to realize that some patients and friends were wanting to reach out to me, but felt they couldn’t because they heard of my illness second-hand. I decided, then, how important it was to open the door for dialogue and share in this journey via Facebook postings, with all my patients and friends. Raising awareness of colorectal cancer, especially in younger adults, is also critical because this cancer can be cured in its early stages. 

WATCH | Colorectal cancer cases are rising in young people, but no one knows why: 

Colorectal cancer cases are rising in young people, but no one knows why

1 year ago

Duration 2:58

A new health study out of the United States is revealing a worrying trend – colon and rectal cancer are on the rise in younger adults. Doctors say it’s happening in Canada too. No one is quite sure why, but some doctors are now asking if screenings should be made available to younger patients.

All of a sudden, I was the patient, and my patients, from near and far, stepped up in droves to be my “doctors.” I was floored and moved to tears by the outpouring of support. They tell me to rest. It is my time to heal. They tell me that I’ve been there for them all these years — at the birth of their babies, taking care of their children and being there for their elderly parents, that I’ve taken good care of them when they needed me the most — and now, it was their turn to take care of me.

Amazing doctors, official and unofficial

It has been unbelievable the number of beautiful, thoughtful cards and loving well-wishes that have poured in to lift my spirits, to encourage me, to give me strength during this time. They have cooked countless delicious meals and treats, given me puzzles and knitting kits and more. They have given me special blankets, pyjamas and scarves to keep me warm. They’ve offered rides to my chemo treatments, and they have said many prayers for my healing.

I am just incredibly humbled and in awe by the number of amazing doctors — official and unofficial — who are taking care of me now. 

Two women embrace.
Tran-Davies embraces Delores Wolski, one of her patients who stepped up to support her after her cancer diagnosis. (Submitted by Nhung N. Tran-Davies)

They remind me I’ve always been a fighter

Little did I know when I was a Vietnamese refugee girl in elementary school dreaming to be a doctor one day that I would be the one needing care. My patient-doctors remind me I’ve always been a fighter — for other people, but it’s also OK for me to fight for myself. A young patient gifted me with a Wonder Woman pendant necklace just to remind me of this.

Because of my patients, I was able to get through surgery and am now tolerating chemo better than expected. My patients give me hope. I am blessed and grateful to have been, and will be for years to come, their family doctor.

Together, we will get through this because of this magnificent patient-doctor relationship.

Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Here’s more info on how to pitch to us.

View original article here Source