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A Piece of My Mind
January 21, 2020

This Quiet Lady

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Surgery, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
JAMA. 2020;323(3):215-216. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.21664

I am reminded of her daily. As a surgical oncologist, many of my conversations with patients, students, and colleagues evoke memories of my mother. During my final year of fellowship training, she and my father were planning to drive across the country to visit after the birth of my second child. My mother had just finished sewing her first granddaughter a quilt, bright and cheery, fabric covered with strawberry cupcakes and unicorns.

Instead of embarking on the trip, she was admitted to the local hospital with pneumonia. When bilateral infiltrates were still present on imaging a month later, additional testing eventually concluded that despite being a life-long nonsmoker, she in fact had stage IV lung cancer. I was a surgical oncology fellow at one of the largest cancer centers in the United States, and when my parents called with the news, I was stunned. Things quickly went from bad to worse, as it became apparent that she had metastatic disease.

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    4 Comments for this article
    Thank you
    John Clark, MD | ANTHC
    Thank you for a beautiful essay. It is a poignant reminder that the things that matter most in what we do can be felt in our heart, but not touched, can be indelibly etched in our memory but not recorded, can add meaning to our lives but cannot be measured.
    Yvonne Rogers, Psychology | Children's Health Ireland
    This is a really beautiful piece of reflective writing, very poignant and moving. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    Thank you
    Scott Stachowski, BS Pharm | Medical Diagnostic Industry
    Thank you for sharing your deeply personal experience and I'm sorry for the loss of your mother. Like you, I hope I will one day be the parent to my children that my own aging parents were to me. Lastly, as healthcare professionals, it's a vivid reminder to be pulled back to the patient perspective and realize what we all do is for them first - and for ourselves and our employers or our insurance companies second!
    This Quiet Lady
    DIna Stander | www.dinastander.com
    Your title caught my eye because this book resides in my heart and has kept a spot on the bookshelf long after my children are grown. I was never able to get all the way through it without choking up and my three daughters were so very gentle with me about this. I am an end-of-life navigator with a background in chaplaincy and community mediation, a listening and conversation professional. I saw the headline and wondered, did she read the book? And I so appreciated this reflection of conversations with your mother that by the time I got to the end I had forgotten the hook. This Quiet Lady walks with me, helping me to remember that beginnings and the rhythms of generational flow have a place in every end of life story that I am a part of. Thank you for sharing!