The Last Word

I had the last word today during a visit with 20-some University of Florida medical school applicants. They were gathered on campus to complete a day-long interview process, structured to give them a glimpse of a day in the life of a med student, and on the agenda was me — a real, live patient.

I told my 8-year-long story from beginning to end in about 20 minutes (whew!) in a freezing-cold room in the basement of Shands Hospital (I was actually shivering at times), and my favorite oncologist, who serves as the assistant dean for the College of Medicine Admissions, said it went very well. I think it did, too.

It was my job to deliver the last word to the folks sitting with me in a circle formation, the individuals who will likely one day be charged with the responsibility of delivering health care to sick people. “Practice medicine with sensitivity,” I told them. “Even if you must fake it,” I said, “show some compassion because it can make a huge difference.”

Then, I read from a hand-written note that was mailed to me by the surgeon who performed the needle biopsy on my suspicious left-breast mass. He’s the one who called me at home the day before Thanksgiving 2004 to inform me that “unfortunately, cancer cells were found.” His note read:

Dear Jacki,

Just a brief note to let you know that I regret being the messenger of bad news, but know that you will come through this difficult time healthy & strong. I & my staff wish for you a smooth & speedy recovery.

Dr. Mac

That note mattered. It made me feel less like a statistic and more like a cared-for individual. That note still matters; that’s why I keep it at close reach, so I can forever remember that there are doctors who really do care.


That was my last word.

6 thoughts on “The Last Word

  1. Oh my goodness, you’re pulling tears from my eyes with that note. No wonder you keep it near – that is true kindness.

    A few days after I was diagnosed, I received a phone call from my GP who’d referred me to the breast clinic. She said she was shocked, and asked if I’d like to talk (and I did want to talk, she was the first medical professional to ask me that.). The kindness she offered is something I’ll never forget.

  2. Tears are near for me as well. Although I had a lot of support from family and friends, it was the calls and cards that I received from the professionals that truly gave me hope. My surgeon took the time to call me with the news that all 22 nodes tested negative. Her elated tone and kindness throughout meant so much to me. Great post Jacki.

  3. What a lovely opportunity to pass on such valuable information. I would of thought all future Dr.’s/nurses would have been told this type of information, but sadly I don’t always see it. Its not nice to feel like a number instead of a patient, thanks for trying to change that.

  4. Hello Jacki,
    I am assisting Julie Grimm promote her Breast Cancer Planner. You can check it out on her website
    I’m sure you receive several requests for review, but I hope you’ll take the time to check out this resource that was created by a survivor to help cancer patients.
    If you would be willing to at least add a link to her site, that would be awesome.
    If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Kind Regards,

  5. Hi Jacki,

    I was one of the med school applicants who heard you speak at UF on Friday. I wanted to thank you again for telling us your story– you were fantastic. What you said about the note really stuck with me. Most patients probably don’t mention or reply to little notes like that, and for the doctor, it probably isn’t obvious whether they are worth sending, so it was really important for me to hear how much something like that can matter to people.

    I know you’ve heard this before, but you are a remarkable and admirable person. Thanks again, and best wishes for your continued good health.

  6. Thank you so much for your nice comment, Elissa! It was a pleasure talking to the group on Friday, and I’m glad I shared something you can take away and use! Best wishes to you in your medical endeavors! 🙂

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