I Outlived My Doctor. Now What?

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This wasn’t supposed to happen. I feel like I was just punched in the stomach. It was his job to make sure I was ok, survived my cancer and lived a long life. He researched all the late effects of my treatments, enrolled me in studies, informed me at every turn what I should watch for and how to be pro-active in my long term care. I never thought I would outlive him.

Recently, I found out that my radiation oncologist who I have known for 28 years passed away. He had metastatic cancer which apparently ravaged his body quickly. It didn’t matter how educated he was, who he knew or the fact he had access to the most innovative and state of art treatments in the world. Nothing worked and he is gone. And way to soon.

When I first met him, I have to be honest, I was a bit nervous. He was quirky, often didn’t make eye contact and was flipping through all my files seemingly looking for something. He was renowned in the field of Lymphoma and in my case, Hodgkin’s disease.  Patients came from all over the world to see him.

Shaking his head he told me my situation was serious and the odds he gave were not what I wanted to hear. I kept thinking “How do I break through with this guy, will he ever warm up?” What I didn’t know was he would be one of the most compassionate doctors I would ever come across. He was practicing patient centered care decades before it was even a term.

My doctor spent hours getting to know me and even interviewed me in my home for the afternoon when he was writing a book. We ate brownies and drank tea and talked about life. I saw him at the tennis club and years later he was the one who sat with me and my husband when I was diagnosed with breast cancer though we didn’t have an appointment . He walked me into a conference room and we talked about what we had been through and our fears for the future. The guy who seemed a bit frosty and unapproachable when we first met was taking time out of his schedule just to talk. He gave me his number so I could page him when my scans (determining the extent of the disease) were over so he could give me my results immediately after the tests (that another doctor ordered) because he knew I would worry. He truly loved and respected his patients.

Throughout the years I have had appointments with him and also seen him in professional settings as I engaged in patient experience work. Last year I was supposed to have an appointment with him and his secretary called to say he was no longer seeing patients though he would be in the hospital continuing his mentoring of residents and continuing his research but just a day or two a week. I assumed he was making time to do other things as he had young children despite his older years. I thought of sending a quick email but got distracted and figured at some point I would just reach back out. I had no idea he was sick. I took time for granted. And now I am sad, so sad. He was my protector and also my friend.

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We all take things for granted and life moves quickly. I didn’t take my own advice and reach out when I was thinking about him. When you have had cancer twice you sometimes feel like you are racing against time which causes an urgency to do things while you can. And I fell into the trap of letting life pass me by. I just wish I could have told him how much his warmth, compassion and friendship meant to me and how he made such a scary time in my life just a little bit easier. He made me feel safe. We should all have a doctor like him.

On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.

Henry David Thoreau

And so I will. I will never stop talking about his compassionate approach to caregiving and using his story to influence others to do the same.

In Memoriam: Dr. Peter Mauch

About Shari

I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, two time cancer survivor and patient advocate. I am a "somebody" who is not an expert but rather has many life experiences and reflections to share.
This entry was posted in cancer, patient centered care and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to I Outlived My Doctor. Now What?

  1. Colleen Bertolino says:

    Hi Shari
    So sorry for the passing of your friend, Dr Mauch. So heartwarming to read of your loss, yet inspiring to read of your silver lining that the gifts Dr Mauch has passed on to you will be passed on to others.
    My Deepest Sympathy
    God Bless
    Colleen

    Like

  2. leannegfs says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss, but thank you for a vivid reminder to make the call, take the time and slow down just a bit to connect with people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hudsonww says:

    Dear Shari:

    I am so sorry for the sadness that you are feeling, especially at this holiday time. Your sentiments about Dr. Mauch are so beautifully written that we readers can definitely feel how important he was to you and your health. I am sure you shared them all with his family.

    As always, I think of you often, and miss knowing that you might visit the road. Things are rather status quo, there is a family in Nucci’s house, the project at the bottom of the road has lights now in the parking lot that are on at night, and more days than not there are cars and trucks at #45.

    Happy new year to you and Tom, and to your dad, who I keep remembering to call too late at night and have finally written it down and will call later.

    xx, oo, Janet

    ________________________________

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  4. Lisa Watkins says:

    Hi Shari
    I am so saddened by your loss and your missing the chance to reconnect that one last time. I have had that type of experience of missed opportunity and deeply feel for you. I imagine Dr Mauch would write you a prescription to be compassionate with yourself. Be good to yourself as you take in this loss and I hope you are otherwise doing really well. Thank you for sharing such a lovely tribute.
    XO
    Lisa

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  5. Carolyn says:

    Oh, Shari! I’m sorry to hear of your doctor’s passing. I, too, have outlived a doctor I credited with saving my life. He was someone who talked to me in my terms, who asked me what I believed, who engaged me in decision-making. Truly patient centered! I’ll be thinking of you and your wonderful doctor.

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  6. Paul Berman says:

    A thoughtful and hearftfelt commentary on your great friend and doctor.

    Like

  7. Jon Mauch says:

    I have entered a link to this tribute on a site that honors Dr. Mauch’s memory. This was wonderful to read! (http://genmarker.com/Peter/)

    Like

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