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September 17, 1997

Thank God I Have Cancer

Author Affiliations

Houston, Tex
Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1997;278(11):956. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550110094053

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As physicians, we eventually attain an age of reflection and solitary games. Among these mind machinations is "Memory as Lottery," an ongoing game of chance. Some thoughtful questions also arise at this stage of life: Does suffering serve any purpose? What truths have I retained in my aging residue? Now that I look back, I find my few shining grains of wisdom frequently came from patient encounters. One unassuming patient and his spouse were unknowingly indelible mentors to me. The process of dying is surely the greatest lesson plan we all must confront. To mutate a thought of Tolstoy, every death is the same, yet each is an individual human drama in which patient and caregivers play teaching roles. Sometimes the physician benefits most from these important interchanges.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, cancer immunology was blossoming. Novel ideas were erupting; exciting new approaches were fashioned; and promised