The Perfect Match: An Oncologist Who Gave the Gift of Time

Doctor holding patient's handFrom our first appointment with my husband’s oncologist, hours after a CT scan showed large tumors throughout his abdomen, Nolan told me he was sure she was the doctor who was meant to treat him. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I thought he was just trying to reassure himself that things would be okay. But looking back on the year and a half he spent in Dr. Sara Garrido’s care, I can’t imagine him being treated by anyone else.

Even though we felt a strong connection with Dr. Garrido early on, we also visited and conferred with four other oncologists, all considered the top experts in testicular cancer. After we spent days compiling stacks of medical records (including files from his first cancer battle ten years prior) and traveled around the country to visit them, three of the four doctors did not want anything to do with Nolan’s case. They felt there was nothing to be done and predicted Nolan would die within six months.

They even questioned why Dr. Garrido was bothering to research experimental treatments when the outcome was obvious. They wondered why she was wasting her time—and they were blunt about it. The fourth doctor, Dr. Lance Pagliaro at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, was kind enough to work with her for a few months and provided other treatment options. He helped us as much as he could.

But in the end, I know Dr. Garrido is to thank for keeping Nolan alive for so long, nearly a year longer than predicted. Dr. Garrido told me in the beginning that while there may not be anything she could do to prevent the ultimate outcome, she wanted him to be with us for as long as possible and be able to be a dad and a husband. She encouraged us to do the things we had always dreamed of doing, and often worked treatment schedules, tests, and office visits around our plans.

It was because of her that Nolan was here to help our son, Logan, blow out his candle and dive into his specially-made miniature cake on his first birthday. After the birthday party, we lay in bed and reminisced about the night our son was born and how much our life changed in that first year.

It was because of her that we were able to take a family trip to Disney World, and where Nolan held our son’s hand while meeting Mickey Mouse and staring in awe at the nighttime musical parade. Nolan was there to celebrate Logan’s first Christmas. We spent it quietly at home, just the three of us in our pajamas, opening gifts for a day and a half because Logan had to play with each toy as he opened it.

Nolan was able to have the Thanksgiving feast that he always talked about with both of our large families together under one roof. Nolan was here to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary and eight years together.

I don’t know how Dr. Garrido does it, day-in and day-out, watching people as they battle cancer. She works incredibly long hours, has stressful days, and sacrifices time with her own family to care for others. She would always call me back, had her assistant reply to all my e-mails, would review the research I brought to her office, explained countless test results and went line by line through CT and PET scans with me because it was important for me to know what every detail meant. She also spent countless hours calling specialists and reading through the latest trials and research on testicular cancer.

More importantly, she treated Nolan like a person—a friend—not just another cancer patient. She not only asked him about his appetite and treatment side effects. She also asked him about our son, Nolan’s job, and what he thought about the various treatments. She discussed, not dictated, treatment options with us. She encouraged Nolan when he was feeling down. She told him inspirational stories that he clung to for hope. She became a part of our inner circle, helping him to fight for every last moment of his life.

How she manages it all, I will never know. I will never be able to repay her for the extra time I had with Nolan; for keeping Nolan alive long enough for our young son to make memories with him; for giving us time as a family. For that I will be forever be grateful.

While Dr. Garrido may not have been considered the top expert in testicular cancer, I quickly realized that the top doctors aren’t always the ones with the best outcomes. Sometimes, it simply takes a doctor who cares.

© Copyright 2010 by Kathleen Rohan. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cherie

    Cherie

    May 17th, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    Kathleen, thank you for sharing such a personal period of your family’s life with us. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been to cope throughout it all. Bless you, your son and the good Dr. Garrido.

  • Sharon

    Sharon

    May 17th, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    It makes my heart glad to hear there are still doctors out there that care so genuinely for their patients and understand the family’s need to know everything that’s going on. Dr. Garrido, you are one in a million. I’m sorry for your loss, Kathleen.

  • Joan

    Joan

    May 17th, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    When my gran was diagnosed with cancer, I felt that her doctor was very offhand about it. It was as if he was voicing a speech he’d rehearsed so many times that it sounded mechanical and cold. That angered me. It may have been the hundredth time he’d had to discuss options with a cancer patient but it was the first time for my gran. Dr. Garrido is a wonderful example of how a doctor should be and everything he wasn’t.

  • Earthling

    Earthling

    May 18th, 2010 at 12:19 AM

    It just becomes so much better when a doctor treats you like a friend and not just like someone that needs to be cured…it instills reassurance in the mind of the person and more importantly gives hope to the person to fight the ailment and come out of it.

  • Carol

    Carol

    May 18th, 2010 at 2:30 AM

    What a heartwarming story about the connection between doctor and patient. You are so right that there are times where doctors do not seem to want to get to know the patient. Maybe that is their own personal way of dealing with all of the bad news that they see and have to share on a daily basis but that really does nothing to make anyone feel any spark of hope or anything to live for. But a story ike this really touches me. Not that her caring is what gave Nolan more time, but who knows? Maybe the underlying encouragement that he received from this oncologist inspired him to keep trying to get better.

  • chris

    chris

    May 18th, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    I fractured my arm a couple of years ago and I was completely worried about how long it would take and how painful the treatment would be. But because my best friend was an Orthopaedic doc, I went to her and she took care of me and spoke to me about the problem like no other doctor could have. Its great to have that personal touch from your doctor,isn’t?

  • Demi K.

    Demi K.

    May 18th, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    @chris:I have a similar feeling about all this.Why,I just have to see my doctor friend even for a little cold…I do not have the confidence in any other doctor…my friend takes personal attention in doing things.

    @The article:Happy to know that there are still such people who take personal interest even though you are not actually their friend…I just hope more and more doctors learn from this and stop being the cold people they are to most patients.

  • Megan

    Megan

    May 18th, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Doctors should never forget that what’s routine for them is earth-shattering for the patient and their families. Let’s see more compassion and a return to the days when doctors had a bedside manner. Kathleen, please accept my condolences. Nolan sounds like a fine man and father.

  • Cassie V.

    Cassie V.

    May 18th, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    Kathleen, you and your son will be in my prayers tonight. Your story made me cry. You know, I wish there were thousands of Dr. Garrido’s and we could all see a doctor as thorough and interested in the patient. Bravo to her for doing an excellent job.

  • LaScala

    LaScala

    May 18th, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    Thank you Kathleen for giving us all hope and showing us that the so-called experts are not always right nor infallible. Dr Garrido’s and your persistence proved them wrong. You both have my greatest respect.

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