From 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.
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