When Kids Get Cancer
Students: You'll learn there are good preceptors,
bad preceptors and then there are physicians who inspire, often because of a
single incident. Last weekend I was inspired.
I am on inpatient pediatrics and late Saturday
afternoon we learned about a little baby whose white blood cell count was high
and the pediatrician had sent this baby straight to our service. The oncologist
took us down to the lab with the peripheral blood smears.
She took a look under the microscope, "This is the
most leukocytes I've ever seen. Come here." She gestured to the lab tech, who
took a look and just started shaking her head in shocked amazement. We knew she
had leukemia, but when she got to our service we didn't know how high her white
count would be - only that it would be very high.
The pediatric oncologist graciously let the med
student and I observe her as she explained to the parents her assessment for
their baby girl. She walked into that room and said, "I am so sorry, I know
this is the worst day of your lives," and immediately began the most gracious,
matter-of-fact, compassionate explanation of a leukemia diagnosis in a baby.
The little girl was just resting in her dad's arms
and the doctor answered the shocked parents graciously, honestly and clearly. I
was jotting down notes on the white board about what the lab tests would show,
what the plan would be and what they could probably expect down the road. The
oncologist explained, "This is no time to be proud. Let everyone who loves you
help you, support you, love you. This is the time to let people that love your
family rally. So many people want to help and it will help them to be able to
The parents were in tears half the time, but I have
never seen one human be able to confidently control parents while still
The beginning of the rest of the story is that the
baby was transferred to a higher level hospital because her lab results were so
dire, but I am so glad to have seen what real medical communication can look
We'll never know why babies get cancer, but we can
know that there are dedicated, wonderful doctors who will fight that cancer
with skill and love.