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A Piece of My Mind
December 26, 2001

The Subtle Power of Compassion

JAMA. 2001;286(24):3052-3053. doi:10.1001/jama.286.24.3052

He stood before us and said he wasn't sure that he had anything to say that would be worthwhile for us to hear. I suppose that some in the audience initially wondered the same thing. As his story unfolded, however, he easily pulled us into his world, 15 years ago, when he began his struggle against cancer. He was a tall man with an athletic physique, so it was difficult to imagine him 60 pounds lighter, bald, and enduring the physical and emotional pain that came with his illness. His plans after graduation from college were drastically changed with the discovery that he had metastatic testicular cancer. For three years he underwent numerous chemotherapy regimens and operations to treat the cancer and its associated life-threatening complications. Much of that time he was hospitalized. He was told repeatedly that his chances for survival were minimal and, with his third recurrence, that his death was likely imminent. After his treatment was completed, he began to live, tentatively, in three- to six-month blocks, uncertain of his future. Yet he now stood in front of us, after having accomplished an amazing list of feats, humbly telling us about his life as a patient, something he rarely talked about.

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