Tag Archives: Medicine

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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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings

Introspection at the Heart of Medicine

This blog post reflects on my artwork in conversation with others, and it is included in the Crossroads blog at The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

My collage, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

My collage, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

As I examined histological slides, I was struck by the simple beauty of the human body on a microscopic level. These images—still silhouettes of chondrocytes in the hyaline cartilage of joints, scattered pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex of the brain, pebble-like adipocytes of fat—were each works of art. And, I realized, they all exist within me.

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Khalil Harbie’s The Art of Anatomy

In The Art of Anatomy (shown here), Khalil Harbie also turns his gaze inward to realize the art of the human body on a macroscopic level. He seems fascinated in the musculature of the forearm— the bulk of the brachioradialis, the careful curvature of the flexor carpi radialis, even a hint of the flexor digitorum superficialis. His intricate shading brings to life the texture and dimensionality of the forearm within a planar space, illustrating the very structures that enable this sketch.

Introspection enables a new way of seeing oneself that permeates into how one views and interacts with the external world. Only with introspection, I posit, can we begin to connect with those around us and truly achieve empathy. The core skills of doctoring, of listening and adequately responding to the suffering of other human beings, depend on an understanding of the self.

The human body, and human life as whole, is aesthetic by nature. We are colorful, we are shapely, we are beautiful. Art is at the heart of scientific studies like histology and anatomy because, in essence, art is the heart of humanity.

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Filed under Narrative Medicine Research, Visualizing Illness

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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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

Week 7: Guest Speaker- Dr. Janet R. Gilsdorf

This week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Janet R. Gilsdorf to join our class discussion. Dr. Gilsdorf is a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the University of Michigan. She is  a breast cancer survivor. She is a writer, an author of two books: Inside/Outside: A Physician’s Journey with Breast Cancer (Conversations in Medicine and Society) and Ten Days. And she took the time to speak with the students in my class.

Having a guest speaker created a different dynamic for our class discussion, one that I think made some of the concepts we had discussed more real. Conversation ranged from Dr. Gilsdorf’s experiences and role in medicine to her time as a patient to her passion for reading and writing. It was a privilege for us to have the opportunity to speak with her.

Lesson Plan Week 7

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“The Heart of Medicine”: Published in The Intima, A Journal of Narrative Medicine

This month, my artwork I Will Wear My Heart Upon My Sleeve was published on the front page of The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine! Check it out here:

The Intima, I Will Wear My Heart Upon My Sleeve

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Filed under Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research, Uncategorized

Grand Rounds Week 1: Introduction, Syllabus, and Welcome to Blogging

One week ago was the first day of my Honors 135 course, Grand Rounds: Exploring the Literary Symptoms of Illness through Narrative. It was exciting to start and to meet all my students, and I’m really looking forward to an interesting and enlightening semester.

I’ve been struggling to decide exactly how I would like to showcase my course and my thoughts about teaching on this blog. For the time being, I’ve decided to focus on my own instruction materials. I might discuss new ideas that arise in class, but to honor the sanctity of our classroom discussion, I might withhold these thoughts until the end of the semester and reflect on the course as a whole at that time.

And so, here are the openly licensed materials from our first day of class:

Honors 135 Syllabus

Lesson Plan Week 1

How to Create WordPress Blog

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Bioartography: Art Inherent in Science

Microscopic slides = masterpieces.

Bioartography is a joint venture by scientists and artists across the University of Michigan campus. This program identifies the artistic nature of scientific studies and illuminates them through a microscopic lens. A panel of artists and scientists contribute their perspectives, and the profits of these sales fund scientific research. Some of these creations have even been adapted and pieced together as quilts by the Healing Quilts in Medicine program. By far, an art fair favorite.

Inspired by Bioartography, I created this collage.

A collection of tissue slides in the shape of a heart, although ironically not from the heart.

I <3 Histology

<kidney, mammary glands, liver,  prostate>

A collection of tissue slides in the shape of a heart, although ironically not of the heart.

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Filed under Visualizing Illness

Jessica Beels Design: The Dimensions of Disease

Disease exists in three-dimensional space. Sculptures allow our depictions of pathology to inhabit the world as such. With metal and broken shards of glass, Jessica Beels brings disease to life. From the microscopic HPV virus to blood clots and galaxies of neurons, Beels crafts the symbolic works of art with an understanding of their scientific significance.

These works were designed specifically for an exhibit called Pulse: Art and Medicine, “a multi media investigation of medicine as an inspiration for art, and the inherent artistry involved in the medical sciences.”

What I love about Beels’ creations is that they embody all aspects of this mission. The multiplicity of medium, incorporating  ordinary tools of art alongside the extraordinary. Understanding how medicine, the springy resilience of blood cells or the withering effects of Alzheimer’s on neurons, are influence  these creations. And, at the same time, how this art reflects the natural and unnatural of the human body.

It is the thought and care behind these works that empowers them. Beels outlines the flow of her ideas, inviting the viewer to understand the decisions she made in shaping each creation. She clearly respected this feat of stepping into the world of science and drawing upon art to explore. Beels seems to devote herself to each of these works, allowing each component to bring its scientific merit into art.

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Regina Holliday’s The Walking Gallery: Connecting the Dots Between Policy and Patients

Sometimes the tendency to wear your heart on your sleeve, to openly express your emotions, can be suffocated by  the medical profession. But wearing your heart on your back is becoming increasingly appreciated.

The Walking Gallery is “the Gallery that walks. The Patients that wear our stories on our back” (Holliday).

Image courtesy of Ted Eytan under a Creative Commons license: BY-SA.

Image courtesy of Ted Eytan under a Creative Commons license: BY-SA.

It’s this revolutionary idea that art can provide a window into the patient experience, one that can be displayed by the clothes on a person’s back. This offers mobility to art, a method of transportation that escapes the confinements of wall hangings and pervades into inevitable lines of vision. This increased accessibility allows “patients,” as embodied by this artwork, to enter into places and discussions that they have never before been a part of. Now, patient experiences can be visible and  actively remembered in the decision spaces  that often influence but do not include patients.

Image courtesy of Ted Eytan under a Creative Commons license: BY-SA

Image courtesy of Ted Eytan under a Creative Commons license: BY-SA.

The work of Regina Holliday, the artist who brought this exhibit of sorts to life, is inspirational. She not only has a way with art, but also a way with language: her overwhelmingly powerful talk at Stanford incredibly moved me, and she has piqued my interest in exploring the place of art in medicine. Holliday is one of the first artists that I’ve come across in the field of patient advocacy, and her creations have gathered incredible force for this movement.

What I love about the Walking Gallery is that it takes a step forward to putting a story to the patient experience. These jackets and the images that they bear evoke emotions buried within medicine.  And The Walking Gallery is not limited to patients: physicians, policy makers, and others associated with health care all have stories to share. Despite the distinct roles in medicine, art overcomes these boundaries with brushstrokes and splashes of color. We can wear our experiences, the good and the bad and the in-between, the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and trials. Boldly.

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Filed under Visualizing Illness

Reflecting and Reframing: Becoming a .com site

The past month has been a flurry of wrapping up the semester and delving into the medical school application process, but I’ve also felt as though I was suspended within a strange state of liminality. I’ve been trying to define my research in the immediate future, but I’ve also been looking beyond that to try to figure out what I hope to accomplish with my passion for illness narratives and how far I can take it through my career in medicine.

I’ve come to realize that ultimately, my primary goal is to become a practicing clinical physician: currently, I hope to be a pediatric oncologist, but I recognize and accept the fact that all that may change in medical school. At the same time, the deeper I delve into the intersection of literature and medicine, the more aware I become of the illness narratives that surround our culture, the more I realize that this semester-long independent study barely scraped the surface. Although I sampled the genres of illness narrative theory, short story, novel, autobiography, memoir, poetry, art, dance, film, and more, there is just so much more for me to explore.

My interest in illness narratives is three-fold: learn, research, teach.

  1. LEARN: Studying illness narratives has helped me to better understand the experience of illness, and I believe that this exploration is vital to making me a better physician.
  2. RESEARCH: Making sense of existing illness narratives and conducting research to promote the generation of new ones has helped me to understand literature, to understand medicine, and to understand their intertwinement.
  3. TEACH: Exposure to illness narratives has entirely changed my understanding of medicine, and I believe that this awareness and perspective is crucial for prospective doctors, so I hope to share my knowledge about this field with others and to promote the general education of illness narratives.

Through all this, it’s become clear to me that no matter where I go for medical school, I am entirely keen on continuing to study illness narratives. And I’ve realized that I can share the process of learning, researching, and teaching in this field with others through the wonderful world-wide web. And so, my blog has abandoned the ‘.word press.’ in favor of simply ‘.com.’

My blog has always been for me, a somewhat personal space where I can reflect naturally, and I hope to preserve my original intent with an added twist. I never wanted to publicize my blog because I was writing only for me, but as I’ve watched people from around the world stumble across it, I’ve realized that there might be other illness narrative enthusiasts who just haven’t quite found the field yet. By turning my blog into a website (I still can’t believe the domain name was even available!), I hope that I can create a centralized space based on the familiarity that I’ve gained with the field.

Six months later, my journey is just beginning. And I’m excited to see how this narrative unfolds.

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Filed under Miscellaneous Musings