Whenever I tell people that I worked in Pediatric Oncology, I always get the same response. “That’s so sad. How could you do that?” Childhood cancer obviously has its moments that are heartbreaking; some more obvious than others. You have days when you find out that a patient has passed away, but the message isn’t delivered through words. There is this unexplainable, palpable feeling of sadness that diffuses throughout the clinic. Outside of closed doors, you won’t see sadness on anyone’s face because the job doesn’t stop when unfortunate events happen. You still have to go into more exam rooms and see patients that might be facing a terminal diagnosis as well. Even in those settings, you don’t have to read the patient’s chart to understand what’s going on. It’s evident in the parent’s sleepless and doleful eyes. Eyes that drastically contradicts those of their happy and energetic child who is often unaware of their own prognosis.
Surprisingly, the most impactful part of the job doesn’t come from losing a patient. It comes from telling those aforementioned parent’s that their child no longer has cancer. The first time I witnessed that moment was something I will never forget. The entire staff comes into the room and sings a song to the patient, celebrating their last day of chemotherapy. To this day, I still don’t know the lyrics, but it never prevented me from clapping along with the team. Those are the types of moments when you realize life is much bigger than yourself. While there are sad days in the clinic from time to time, most days are filled with singing and dancing.
The reason I love this speciality so much is that the environment on a day-to-day basis is unlike any other field of medicine. On any given day, you could see therapy dogs, have tea parties, play games, and see magic tricks from our resident clown (who isn’t scary at all, despite some people’s phobias). And the best part of it all is that everyone who works in that clinic WANTS to be there. There are many jobs where people just show up for the paycheck, but Pediatric Oncology is not one of them. It takes a special kind of person who wants to make an impact on children’s lives everyday.
While the gloomy feeling that occasionally fills the clinic can be overwhelming, that energy is quickly cured by sounds of laughter, the feeling of Play-Doh under your fingernails, and the sight of children overcoming obstacles that many of us won’t ever face in our lifetime. I have sat in chairs much too small for both of my buttcheeks, at tables covered in board games and painting supplies, across from children who have overcome diagnoses that I couldn’t even pronounce. I have worked with great humans who truly care about others more than themselves and I have dressed up as superheroes, rocked face paint, and went home covered in Paw Patrol stickers. So when people ask, “how could you want to work there?” I always say to myself, “how could you not?”