Learning Something New

I learn a lot of from the young adult patients I serve. Regularly they teach me about resilience, loyalty and grace—hope in the face of unimaginable stress and odds.  These moments motivate me to come to work each day and to see the pure joy in the regular, sometimes mundane, routine of my life.

Every once and a while these young adults literally teach me about how to do my job.

Today I visited with a young man whom I have known for several years. You can read Phil’s story on the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center website http://www.umgcc.org/hem_malig_program/phillip.htm.

Phil has handled all of the ups and downs of cancer, a bone marrow/stem cell transplant and now some of the late effects of treatment, with tons of that stuff I first mentioned.  Sure he has grumpy periods, but don’t we all?  Most days, Phil is a great example of a young person who has battled cancer and in the process become his own best advocate.

Phil came to the hospital today to attend his pre-op class for his upcoming orthopedic surgery. The surgery will address the osteonecrosis he is experiencing as a result of the steroids he took during the transplant. Phil needs a procedure that will relieve pressure in his knees and hips. Coincidentally, I have another young patient who just learned that the knee pain he was experiencing is likely a result of osteonecrosis brought on by the steroids necessitated in his treatment protocol. This young man and his family are concerned about surgery, don’t know exactly which surgeons to connect with and are feeling a bit lost and discouraged that just as he is finishing his three years of treatment this roadblock has come up. Although I vowed to find the answers for them, truth be told, I was a bit discouraged myself.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was not aware of this long term treatment effect. I am a 27 year survivor of cancer but as a student of the disease I am still in the nursery school years. I know a bit about osteonecrosis but of the kind that is caused by radiation to the jaw.

Several years ago, in the somewhat unlikely event that I might have this in my jaw, I underwent what I am convinced was the most elaborate wisdom tooth extraction in history of dentistry. After weeks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and under general anesthesia, I spent an entire day at UMMC having my upper right wisdom tooth (already half out, mind you) removed.

While we waited for his ride, Phil and I stood in the lobby of the hospital and he patiently gave me the names of the surgeons who are treating him, the process he went through to diagnose the osteonecrosis and how the surgery should benefit him, while I took notes on my blackberry.

I don’t mean to suggest that I wouldn’t have found this information eventually or from another source within the hospital. But, how nice is it that my patient could teach me and his knowledge can directly benefit one of his peers.

About Elizabeth Saylor

Director of Young Adult Patient Navigation
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