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young girl, I often would accompany my fa

ther, general surgeon, to the hospital on Sundays. My older
sister and youngest brother and I rode the wheelchairs
parked at the hospital entrance (until someone inevitably told
us to stop) while my dad would "make rounds." As I watched
him walk down the hospital corridor and through two swing
ing doors, I'd imagine him going in circles. He would return
just when we were getting bored and take us to the 7-Eleven
for Slurpees and penny candy.
That's all I knew of my father's profession. Only in very
general terms did I understand what a doctor was. My father's
even keel and reticent demeanor is such that we never knew
when he lost a patient or spent all day in the operating room
on a complicated case. He never brought home details of dif
ficult cases, and my seven siblings and I monopolized the din
ner conversation with stories from school. The stories of his
work became his unintentional secret
Twenty-five years later, his secret was revealed. He
observed while I underwent a CT scan and then an ultrasound
at the hospital where he was on staff, and he was the one who
told me the results: the cancer we'd thought we were rid of
(after five years free of the disease) had recurred. He
explained my diagnosis by making circles on his chest to show
me where the cancer had grown back. I recall the elegance
of those long fingers tapping on his striped shirt as we sat in
his hospital's ultrasound waiting area. Their fluid motion re
vealed to me the consummate surgeon that my dark-haired,

When I

was a

soulful-eyed father wascalm, direct, deliberate.

I imagined the tumors as perfectly round because that's

how he "drew" them.

He said that my oncologist would probably want to remove
them surgically. I said, "Let's just do whatever we have to do
to fix it," and in that moment I realized how much I wanted,
for most of my life, to be like him. I felt the admiration so
many of his patients had felt and told me about on the few
occasions I worked in his office. I wanted to search for a so
lution rather than give in to self-pity; I wanted to show
strength. That desire served me well that day. I was shocked
and shaky but nevertheless determined.
Cancer is a sinister disease, but I believe it brings with it
an honesty one might otherwise never know.
From my father I inherited the will to live methodically. It
means, as we have often said in my family, "doing what has
to be done" to solve a problem or to achieve a goal. My father
spent the week between the news and my appointment to see
my oncologist by collecting information from other oncolo
gists at some of the best cancer centers around the country.
How would they treat my condition? It essentially came down
to whether to do surgery or chemotherapy. Only one doctor

recommended surgery; the others said chemotherapy first.

The catch was that because the kind of tumors I had were
relatively rare (hemangiopericytomas), there was no clinical
evidence to prove statistically that chemotherapy alone was
a successful treatment.
A few days before my appointment, we discussed this in the
family room of my childhood home, my father looking a bit
shrunken on the couch as I swiveled nervously in the chair
next to him. There was a chance this couldn't work, I repeated
out loud. For a moment's pause I looked beyond him and
through the window to the backyard. I think I wanted to look
as far away as I could, or more likely, fast forward into the
future for an answer. Then I looked back to him, and in his
softening brown eyes I saw that my fear was his, too, but he
said we couldn't think about it that way. He voiced a deep and
resonant determination at my weakest moment, and I was
lifted over an enormous hurdle.
When my oncologist, the one who'd performed the first sur
gery five years ago, recommended a second surgery to remove
the tumors, my father wanted one last opinion from one more
oncologist. I was ready for the surgery; it seemed a clear and
swift solution, but my father needed something else. Looking
back, I think it was a reassurance no one could provide.
A day later, however, he told me to call my doctor and
schedule the surgery. My mother had pointed out that it was
time for my father to step aside, to let the doctor do what he
was supposed to do. It must have been a difficult moment for
him. My mother, knowing him as well as she does, knew he
needed to let go, to accept what was now out of his hands.
Now we were both vulnerable to chance. There was no such
thing as making our own luck. We had to rely on luck.
I wonder what it was like for him to sit in the family wait
ing room at the hospital (where he was not on staff), knowing
as much as he did. I wonder if his hands felt the urge to move
to the motion of the incision, where he'd first pointed to the
tumors' location. I wonder if he visualized the cancer squeez
ing against my organ tissue. I have had the luxury of select
ing what I want to know about this disease. From the begin
ning, he has known too much.
That has been my advantage, though. Through my postop
erative recovery and the follow-up chemotherapy, he has
been, as a physician and my father, my medical interpreter
and my ultimate protector. Now I know how he must have
touched people on those Sunday morning rounds. And I un
derstand why so much was left unspoken. Many of the stories
of his work have no neat beginning, middle, and end. Perhaps
that's something he didn't want his children to know just yet.
Anne Broccolo
Northbrook, Ill

We welcome contributions to A Piece of My Mind. Manuscripts

should be sent to Roxanne . Young, The Journal of the American
State St, Chicago, IL 60610.
Medical Association, 515

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