The contents of my bones include myelopoietic cells, lymphocytes, and a deep passion for medicine. Knowing medicine would fill my post-graduate years, I chose to focus on my love of literature and arts during my time at Princeton. I relished office hours with faculty as we chewed over Gourevitch’s methods to depict tragedy or Thoreau’s embrace of self-contradiction. Still, health never left my side, whether in my theatre company or in my major. In the creative writing program, I wrote pieces about coping with cancer diagnoses. With the Princeton University Players I produced plays addressing mental health issues and helped organize and manage benefit concerts for AIDS research. My culminating senior thesis analyzed theater as a vehicle for confronting illness (Staging Sickness: The Theatricality of Terminal Illness, Gendered Disease, and Lifelong Disabilities).
My thesis was the perfect launching point for a post-graduate career. I wanted to continue to join together the two academic passions that defined me: my love for science and my love for the humanities. These two interests had always seemed disparate, but I believed that patient care was the keystone: that final piece of the puzzle that would strengthen and unite my deepest commitments. I began clinical research in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at University of California, San Francisco, guided in many ways by my English independent work. The second chapter of my thesis examined the cynical pitfalls of clinical research through the lens of two plays: Margaret Edson’s Wit and Joan Schenkar’s Signs of Life. Now in my own clinical trial work I focus extra energy not just to get the data required but also to make connections with patients and their families.
The creativity I found all around me in the English department inspired the kind of empathy and dedication I give to my patients in the GI Oncology clinic. My patients teach me about strength in all forms, and I, in turn, try to make a difficult process feel more humane by caring for them as unique individuals. When a patient couldn’t travel to Hawaii because of side effects, I sent him a care package of macadamia nuts to bring a small piece of the tropics to him. One patient expressed that the highlight of her week was brunch with her brother, so I compiled a list of restaurants for them to try. Another patient couldn’t eat at her favorite restaurant because her brain tumor was affecting her balance, so I thinly sliced forty cloves of garlic to make that restaurant’s signature relish for her to enjoy at home.
Though patient interaction is the highlight of my days, scientific writing has also played a role in my post-graduate career. Four academic posters and four published papers later, I have almost gotten used to the curt and unembellished form used for peer review! I have been humbled to work on a variety of scientific projects outside of the clinic, the most impactful of which determined that colon cancer located in the right colon is biologically different from colon cancer in the left. These findings will fundamentally change the way 50,000 new cases of colon cancer will be viewed and treated every year. This study will also help direct the design of clinical trials so that future care becomes more efficient and effective.
After almost four years now of conducting research and building relationships with patients, I am about to start on my next journey. This Fall I will begin medical school at UCSF, equipped with worldviews from beyond the lab bench, courtesy of the Princeton English Department.