As I sat before my computer screen reviewing Ms. W’s electronic medical record, one word gripped my attention, paragraph after paragraph: survivor. Now in her mid-60s, she had survived HIV/AIDS during an era when treatment was non-existent. She was soon after diagnosed with breast cancer, but fought through intensive chemotherapy, and survived. Then, as if one malignancy wasn’t enough, she developed ovarian cancer, and endured surgery and radiation to, yet again, survive. This time, she had come with a complicated urinary tract infection; her ureters had been narrowed by prior courses of radiation therapy, and she would need pelvic surgery to stent open those tiny canals and prevent future infections.
Ms. W’s degree of health complications is not unusual in our public hospital, where many patients show up with more advanced disease compared to patients with adequate insurance coverage and access to preventive healthcare. But it is not so common to see such survival against these great odds. There was something unique about Ms. W’s resilience, and I was interested to understand it more clearly. Continue reading →