When I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time in 2004, I was assigned to a new oncologist, Dr. Carpenter. At his right hand was his nurse, Alese, who always knew just what to say when anxiety over a worrisome symptom crept in or I simply had to wait too long in a cold examination room for Dr. Carpenter to see me.

A little over a year ago, I received a letter in the mail informing me that Dr. Carpenter had decided to return to research full-time, so I would be assigned another oncology specialist. I’ve now seen Dr. Vaklavas a couple of times. He’s a nice guy, well-informed, up-to-date on current research and approaches to care. Still, I miss Dr. Carpenter. When it comes to cancer care, there’s some comfort in the familiar. Cancer survivors put a lot of trust in their health care team, and it’s a bit of a shock when someone on that team decides to follow a different path.

I received another shock when I returned to the oncology clinic last week and discovered that Alese wasn’t there. After some tiptoeing around the subject, Dr. Vaklavas told me the truth. Alese has advanced liver cancer. She arrived to work one day looking jaundiced, and within a few days, she’d been given a prognosis that isn’t terribly hopeful.

I feel for Alese and her family and wish I could tell her how much I’ve appreciated her kindness and support through the years. I’d also like her to know how very different every visit I make to the clinic will be without her there.


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