Category Archives: Miscellaneous Musings

These blog posts include my random reflections about illness narratives, literature, and medicine.

Helping: A podcast interview

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to share my journey into medicine through Inside Stories. Now, after finishing my first year of medical school, it was a pleasure to chat with  J.J. Bouchard, a Certified Child Life Specialist and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, about my experiences helping others.

Helping: Conversations with Child Life Specialists and Other Helper Professionals is a podcast that features people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. I was truly honored to participate in this podcast project and to have a chance to reflect on my experiences as a helper and what being a helper means to me. In this podcast, I shared some of my experiences with the Chronicling Childhood Cancer narrative project and the book, as well as the current volunteer work that I’ve become involved in as a medical student.

J.J. was instrumental in helping me with my research project (as you’ll hear about if you listen to the podcast!), and his podcasts provide great insight into the stories of people who devote themselves to helping others. It is incredible to me the variety of ways that people choose to make a difference in the lives of others, and listening to these podcasts has reminded me that there is so much that we can learn from each other.

Check out the podcast here, and subscribe to hear more from other helper professionals!

http://www.helpingpodcast.com/?page_id=10

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Thinking about the Chronicling Childhood Cancer book reading/signing event… Still

I have to apologize for the blog silence. Sometimes life gets in the way of things, no matter how important they may be to me.

Three weeks ago, it was my pleasure to hold a book reading/signing event for the recently published book Chronicling Childhood Cancer: A Collection of Personal Stories by Children and Teens with Cancer. I had approached Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor on a whim, thinking that if there was any bookstore who may support this local book publication of stories by youth with childhood cancer, it was them.

Before I had even finished telling them the whole story, they had said “of course.” They kindly invited me to host an event to launch the book, to get the word out about it and raise more awareness about the cause of childhood cancer. They were so supportive about this project that they even wanted to donate 100% of the book sales from the event: as with the book, 50% of the donations would go to the Block Out Cancer campaign for pediatric cancer research at the University of Michigan and 50% to the Child and Family Life Program at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

I tossed around a number of ideas about what to do for the event, ultimately deciding that it would be best to let the children share their stories themselves. After I contacted all the young authors, we were fortunate enough to have three join us at the event (one other author realized that he had too much math homework that day, but I reassured him that was entirely valid and it made me smile to hear that school was his excuse).

It’s hard for me to summarize what happened that night. So hard that it’s taken me weeks to find the words to write about it (somewhat) coherently. The event as a whole moved me more than I had ever anticipated.

I had certainly been nervous about the event because of how sensitive this topic of childhood cancer is. I think that in the back of my mind I feared what could happen all along and how emotional the experience of sharing their stories could be for the authors of this collection. But in reality, I hadn’t mentally prepared for it.

By its very nature, the book reading was an emotional experience for the young authors as well as the audience. It was not easy for me to watch as these teens stood under bright lights in front of a room full of people, overcome by emotion as they shared their personal and very intimate experiences with cancer. I was struck by their determination and persistence to tell their tales- it was just one example of what courage in the face of cancer looks like.

After the event, each of the authors thoroughly enjoyed signing copies of the book. Even though the event had clearly not been easy for anyone, they were all eager and excited about the prospects of doing another book reading/singing event and maybe even meeting some of the other authors.

As far as this project has come, I’ve realized that I’m not done with it now, and I probably won’t ever be. There’s just so much more that I want to do to share what these children and teens have shared with me, and I’m as determined as ever to make the most of all that this project has taught me. But I also know that I need time, and that’s ok.

To this day, I am struck by just how much this event moved me. The standing-room-only audience of friends and family, health practitioners and local strangers. The kind words of appreciation expressed by these young authors and their parents. The knowledge that all that I have put in to this research, this book, and this event has touched these teens more than I had ever realized. It was overwhelming, in the best way possible.

Literati book reading signing event- Event Plan

Literati book reading signing event- Research Overview

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[From Mott Children’s Hospital blog] Sharing the voices of children with cancer

With excerpts from the Chronicling Childhood Cancer book, this blog post was included in the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Hail to the Little Victors blog. I’m honored to be a part of such an important initiative; I truly believe that “everyone has a role to play to block out cancer.”

Sharing the voices of children with cancer

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Kicking Off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by Answering the Question: Why?

The long-anticipated month of September has finally arrived: it’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

President Obama issued a proclamation in honor of this occasion, recognizing that this is the time to “remember all those whose lives were cut short by pediatric cancer, to recognize the loved ones who know too well the pain it causes, and to support every child and every family battling cancer each day.”

Moreover, the proclamation acknowledges the multidimensional approach needed for childhood cancer awareness: “We join with their loved ones and the researchers, health care providers, and advocates who support them as we work toward a tomorrow where all children are able to pursue their full measure of happiness without the burden of cancer.”

As I have become more involved in the cause of childhood cancer, people have asked me why. And I think it’s important for me to be upfront about my background. No, I am not a childhood cancer survivor, nor do I have any close friends or family that have gone through the experience. But I believe that you don’t have to be personally touched by childhood cancer to care.

Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital was all it took to expose me to this different world. For me, getting to know these children and their families and witnessing how cancer permeated their lives made me determined to do something.

While I currently aspire to be a pediatric oncologist and to dedicate my career to these children, I also realize that a lot can change throughout the course of my medical education. Nevertheless, I know that childhood cancer will always be a cause that I hold dear to my heart– I know that I will continue to support these children and their families in whatever capacity that I can.

That’s why I am a firm believer in the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month campaign motto at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital:

boc web page banner image

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Learning to Listen: Discovering Illness Narratives in Medical Education

With my White Coat Ceremony over and the start of medical school looming in the very near future, it seems inevitable to me that this website will be transformed, just as I will.  While I’m not certain exactly how, I have several ideas about where I hope to go.

The stethoscope presented to us at our White Coat Ceremony reminded me of my original purpose in creating this blog. The stethoscope embodies, both literally and figuratively, one of my favorite components of the practice of medicine: the ability to listen. When I first discovered the genre of illness narratives, I felt compelled to listen keenly to the experiences of those with illness and the variety of ways in which they can be expressed.

But just as a stethoscope alone does not provide a diagnosis, I’ve come to realize that there is more to receiving these narratives than to listen. I write because I believe also in the value of sharing, of moving forward and doing something with what I learn through listening.

As I move into this next phase of my life, I want to rededicate this website to its original purpose of receiving and sharing ideas about illness narratives. But I want to do so from an entirely different perspective: as a medical student studying to become a physician rather than an undergraduate with hopes to enter medicine. And by acknowledging how different these two realms are, I can begin to understand from within just how medicine acknowledges the narratives of the ill.

I’m sure that I will be busy scribbling lecture notes, reading and rereading textbooks, and dissecting the human body. But all the while, as I study the science of medicine, I plan to bear in mind the art of medicine. I hope to applaud but also question and even criticize the ways that we talk about illness and about people in the institution of medical education.

I believe in the power of illness narratives. And, ultimately, in “Humanism in Medicine.”

photo-5

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How to “Make-A-Wish”: Stephen’s Day as a Michigan Football Recruit

When people think about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, most people think about dying children fulfilling their last wish to go to Disneyworld. But Make-A-Wish Foundation is about so, so much more.

As a volunteer wish granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the organization from the inside and to understand what really goes into turning a child’s wish into reality. I firmly believe that I have the best job of all- it is my responsibility to spend time with children with life-threatening conditions and help them to realize their “one, true wish.” These wishes are about more than visiting Disneyworld but rather understanding what will bring each child the greatest joy they could ever imagine.

This past week, I was inspired to hear about an incredible wish that was close to home for me: Stephen’s wish to be recruited for the University of Michigan Football Team. Like many children, he lost his ability to play football when he was diagnosed with cancer. For his wish, Stephen got to meet his favorite football player, Michigan’s football coach, and even the football team in the Big House.

The only way to appreciate the great work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation is to witness his wish for yourself:

http://frontrow.espn.go.com/2014/07/wish/

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A Dance to Zach Sobiech’s Sandcastles: Dedicated to Youth with Cancer

Because dance is one way that I express myself, I’ve been wanting to dedicate a dance to the youth with cancer that I have spent time with over the years.

When I learned about Zach Sobiech, a teenager with osteosarcoma, his incredible musical talent resonated with me: the lyrics he wrote and the songs he sang expressed his inspiring attitude amidst his experiences with cancer. With subtle undertones of cancer, his music is simple yet powerful. One of my favorite songs by Zach is Sandcastles: a melodious, heartfelt duet with Sammy Brown about a far off land “where no one gets hurt and no one dies.”

Zach died one year ago today. My hope is that my choreography and performance of a dance to Sandcastles, speaks for itself.

Dedicated to youth with cancer.

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A Summer Solstice of Sorts

Although it’s been awhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about this website over the past few weeks. Remembering where it began, reflecting on how it has evolved, and postulating about what lies in its future. What began as a somewhat objective study of illness narratives has transformed to introspectively explore my personal navigation of the genre.

This summer, for the next two months before medical school begins in August, I will be doing something else that I love: traveling. From India to Paris to Spain, I’m really excited to have the opportunity to see more of the world. I am determined to make the most of this exciting time.

My ever-growing summer reading list beckons, and my travel journal of blank pages is waiting to be filled. I hope to refrain from technology (insofar as is possible) and instead feel the pages of real books and write through my thoughts with a pen in hand.

And so, this is a disclaimer: posts may be sparse over the next several weeks. But if this ends up being the case, then I look forward to returning with a refreshed perspective, developing thoughts, and new ideas for the future.

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One Reason Why I’m Attending the University of Michigan Medical School

There are many, many reasons why I’m excited to be attending the University of Michigan Medical School this fall. But I think that they all come down to one fact:

I’m not done.

In high school, all I wanted to do was get out of Ann Arbor. Never would I have ever imagined living here as a University of Michigan undergraduate, not to mention staying on for graduate school. With each life phase though, I have gotten to experience a new dimension of Ann Arbor; I’ve come to truly appreciate all that this city and these people have to offer.

What I love about the University of Michigan is the passion and dedication within our community. I have had the pleasure of getting to know so many motivated and inspiring students, advisors, and professors. This is a community of individuals who are committed to encouraging passion, embracing innovation, and nurturing our curiosity as life-long learners. This place and these people have shaped me into the person that I am today. I look forward to continuing to work with familiar faces as well as meeting new people.

Despite the change instigated by moving out and coming to college, there is one thing that has stayed constant as part of my life: volunteering at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Mott is a place where I have spent more than 5 years, hundreds of hours, and even birthdays. Every Friday, security personnel greet me, health professionals say hi, and the man at the parking structure always thanks me genuinely for dedicating my time as a volunteer.

Perhaps what I most value is that many patients and their families have come to recognize me just as I recognize them. It means so much to me that I have had the opportunity to get to know these individuals and develop these lasting relationships. When I catch up with these people, I am reminded of just how much these experiences have helped me to understand what it means to truly care for others. Mott is a place that I have filled with memories over the years, and I’ve realized that I’m not quite ready to leave it just yet.

I’m not done, and it’s such an honor that I don’t have to be. Forever, go blue.

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Excited for The Examined Life conference: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine

When I attended the WMU Medical Humanities Conference last fall, I heard about an upcoming conference called The Examined Life: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine. And now, I’m fortunate enough to not only be attending this conference but also be presenting about my childhood cancer narrative research!

The Examined Life conference explores “the links between the science of medicine and the art of writing.” This conference seems to align perfectly with my own dual interests in medicine and literature. I think that participating in this conference will help me to figure out how I can maintain and balance both passions throughout my career, and I’m looking forward to meeting others in these fields with their own insight and experience to share.

At the Examined Life conference just one week from now, I’ll be doing something a bit different. In writing my Honors English thesis over the course of this year, I realized just how crucial my methodology has been in shaping the adolescent cancer narratives that I wanted to analyze. As a result, rather than just presenting about my research, I’ll be leading a discussion forum this time. Specifically, we will be discussing the ethics inherent in my methodology and thoughts that may be sparked from encountering these narratives. I’m curious, nervous, and excited to see what comes out of this discussion. I believe that these conversations will give me a lot to think about as I look towards further developing my honors thesis.

Here’s the abstract for my discussion forum:

Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative

I’ve never been to Iowa! I’m excited.

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