Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Tuesday was my last “date” with my oncologist. 

Ever since I had heard he was leaving to practice in Florida, I had been trying to compile a list of reasons he shouldn’t go. All I had so far was 1. It’s too humid down there and he’ll have to live with frizzy hair and 2. The most insane news stories come out of Florida. Did he really want to be a part of that? (No offense, Florida.)

Dr. Asim Aijaz’s practice has always been insanely busy, something I chalked up to him being an awesome oncologist. Every time I left his office, I felt like my concerns had been heard, and I knew exactly why treatment was proceeding the way it was. I never doubted the path I was taking. Yes, the wait to see him could be interminable, but that’s because he took his time with you. Funny thing, I never heard other patients complain; they knew that they, too, would get his undivided attention when their names were called.

But the typically buzzing office is quiet today. In preparation for his departure, Dr. Aijaz has stopped adding patients to his calendar. My butt never touches a waiting room chair as I’m sent straight into the back office for my blood work. As the nurse is trying to find a functioning vein in my battered circulatory system, I spot the good doctor walking quietly down the hall.

“You! I’m going to have words with you,” I say sternly, pointing a bony finger at him. He pretends to duck into an exam room. “You’re lucky I’m getting my veins prodded right now!” I yell.

Something tells me my oncologist will have no shortage
 of interesting patients in Florida.
After I’m patched up from three attempts to get blood, and I've lied my way out of getting weighed ("I weighed myself not that long ago and here is the weight I wish I was"), I make my way down to the exam room to wait for the doctor. Finally he appears. “You,” I say again and trail off. I had been prepared to chastise him for breaking up with me. How could he do this? I’m young and need many more years of follow-up. I hate change.

He perches himself on the end of the exam table, and I’m reminded of the first time I met him in December 2013. “I know a lot about you,” he had said then, leaning against the exam table. He had studied my chart, my lab results and everything else in my folder, which at that point was the thickness of “The Grapes of Wrath” and about as equally depressing. He knew me, and he knew what course of action we needed to take. He was very methodical in describing why my tumors were ugly, and why chemo would be needed to reduce my risk of recurrence.  

He uses this same methodical manner now, to break up with me. It wasn’t me. It was him.

He carefully explains that he received a great opportunity in an Orlando health system. It's a step up in many ways. As the only oncologist in this New York office, his current workload is insane. He has kids almost the same age as mine. He’d like to spend more time with his young family, and Florida presented the best opportunity for this.

How the hell was I supposed to argue with that reasoning? Me, who wanted nothing more than to spend more time with my family? It was at this moment that I really began to think about the personal lives of those who work tirelessly to fight cancer and extend lives—the missed family dinners and the children's bedtime stories that go unread because patient appointments ran long that day.

Everyone always focuses on how much doctors make, but you know what? You couldn’t pay me enough to be a doctor. Not that I’d have that opportunity anyway. No way could my attention span see me through med school, fellowship training and whatever other hoops they make you jump through before you're allowed to look after humans. But I’m thankful for those people who do make this sacrifice, for putting in years of training to help people like me. (This includes those unsung heroes of cancer care, the oncology nurses, as well.) And kudos to the all the healthcare practitioners who are able to finally achieve a work-home balance.

I ask about what I do now. Do I stick with the practice, and his replacement, or go elsewhere? In his usual honest manner, which always gave me the sense he was looking out for me and not the business side of medicine, he advises me to go elsewhere. Did I mention I hate change? He hands me the contact information for recommended oncologists—my confirmation that I have to start all over again with another doctor.

With that, we exchange “good lucks,” and shake hands.  He’s sad, I can tell. After all, how could he possibly get lucky again and find another patient as endearingly crazy as me? Then I remember where he’s headed and I smile. Where he’s going, he won’t need luck. 


  1. I love it, as I do all of your posts, for the honesty, humor and poignant struggle we make each day with the balance between what we want and what we must do. May you find the next best person to love the kind of perfect crazy you are. - Deb H

  2. I love this. It's very heart warming and shows the human side of Dr's which a lot of people don't see. Best of luck on your new journey sister.

    1. Thank you! What an emotional toll this cancer business takes - even years after...

  3. Hi I am glad I found your post. I too was a patient of Dr. Aijaz in December of 2013 and was heartbroken when he left. I did not get the opportunity to discuss other oncologists with him and am using the same practice. I would really appreciate if you could forward me his recommendation for oncologists to me. My email address is got2dzine@aol.com. Thank you so much in advance, it will be a big relief as I don't feel comfortable with my current situation.

    1. I'm so sorry you got "broken up with," too, Andrea! Emailing you now...


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