“Resilience, inventiveness, and survivorship– qualities often ascribed to great physicians– are reflected qualities, emanating first from those who struggle with illness and only then mirrored by those who treat them. If the history of medicine is told through the stories of doctors, it is because their contributions stand in place of the more substantive heroism of their patients.” ― Siddhartha Mukherjee
Reading Mukherjee’s impressive history of cancer treatment has made me even more aware of how much we owe to earlier generations of patients. These pioneers endured extreme discomfort, agony and even death from experimental treatments. Their determination and courage enabled the medical advances that save so many of our lives today. As in every other area of life, we benefit from the sacrifices of thousands of people whose names we will never know.
Illness takes no holidays, and medical crises have no predictable calendar. We all know people who are dealing with serious illness this season, unable to enjoy the festive cheer with the lightheartedness that is possible for those of us in good health. I hope we will remember these friends in some way. A personal note, a heartfelt prayer, a visit or call or small gift; any gesture that will acknowledge their trials, and let them know they are not forgotten in the rush of December. One of the best ways to defeat despair is to brighten someone else’s day, especially this time of year.