Taking Stock and Finding Gratitude in Cancer Treatment
There are many exciting aspects to the onset of a new year. It’s a time for regrouping, reconnecting, and re-establishing yourself. This is the time to take stock of personal accomplishments, pitfalls, and decide upon areas for improvement.
Although it’s a tad arbitrary to select the transition from December 31st to January 1st as “the time” to process these aspects of our lives, the passing of one secular calendar year into another is an excellent opportunity to make amends with the past and look forward to our future progress.
In past years, I’ve used this particular week’s entry to list personal New Year’s resolutions in the context of my career as a veterinary oncologist. I’ve been successful in accomplishing some, while others have been sidelined in favor of more mundane activities related to home improvement, work obligations, and family matters.
This year I’m taking a different approach. I’m still hoping to reflect on my achievements and disappointments over the past 12 months with an exacting and honest retrospective lens, but I’m also trying to do something I find exceptionally difficult, which is find contentment in the present.
I’ve always been goal driven—especially when it comes to academics. A large focus of my youth was achieving scholarly success so I would be accepted to veterinary school. My path towards that milestone was a bit circuitous, but once achieved, it turned out acceptance wasn’t an endpoint, but rather one of a thousand mile markers on a path towards an uncertain finish line.
Getting into veterinary school led to my need to achieve excellent grades and become involved in numerous co-curricular activities to ensure I was a competitive candidate for future internship and residency programs.
Matching to a residency program wasn’t the end of my path, as I convinced myself I needed to absorb every detail related to my cases and memorize minutia in order to be a successful oncologist.
Achieving board certification as a veterinary oncologist wasn’t the golden ticket, as I then pressured myself to find the “perfect” job.
I exist only in forward motion, striving towards an endpoint without accurately defining what that finish line would look like. Technically, in a professional sense, I’m already there, yet I still lack fulfillment, both jobwise and personally.
With the onset of the New Year, I’m trying to focus less on the destination and spend more time looking at my journey. Instead of resolving what to do over the next 12 months, I’m taking the time to inventory what I have to be thankful for right now.
I’m grateful for being employed. Yes, a relatively simple aspect to be happy about, but not everyone with my credentials is able to enjoy full time employment in their chosen field. My job may not be perfect, but it’s certain.
I’m happy to have openings in my appointment book. This may seem a bit bizarre, as the overachiever in me should be happier being overbooked. However, breaks in my schedule mean I have the ability to divide my time more towards the owners and pets who need it. If an appointment runs over the allotted time, or an owner calls frantic, needing advice, I’m able to devote additional minutes of my day to their needs without taking time from another. This means I am giving more of myself to my clients and achieving a standard of care on par with what I would want for my own pets.
I am thankful for the patients with cancers for which there are no known treatment options or expectations of cure, yet I am able to maintain their quality of life for an extended period of time using creative treatment options and novel plans. I enjoy being able to learn from their care and spread that opportunity to other pets in similar situations. I’m also happy to simultaneously provide additional quality time to the owners of pets with terminal cancer.
I’m happy my own pets are healthy. The kittens we adopted last year have grown into chunky, happy, mischievous young adults, and our older girls are doing well and continue to adjust to their new siblings as best as can be predicted.
I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year filled with excitement and anticipation. I also wish everyone the ability to take stock in what it is they have, rather than focus on what it is they need to improve. Being happy in the here and now isn’t always easy, but this is a great time to start!
Happy 2016 to everyone!
Dr. Joanne Intile