I’m always on the lookout for inspiring stories about cancer: patients, survivors, battles won, valiant fights fought. This story found me, via the local newspaper last week, and it’s been on my mind ever since. I am bowled away by this woman. Her attitude is nothing short of fantastic, and her drive to make a difference in the “war on cancer” is inspiring, for sure. Because I’m juggling 4th grade homework on units of measure and a 7th grade study guide on Texas history with the usual chores, animal herding, and the ever-elusive hunt for something healthy/yummy/pleasing to 4 different palates before another weeknight at the baseball fields, I’m going to just relay this story simply and without a lot of editorializing. You’re welcome.
Chisa Echendu had her eye on a doctorate in medical research from Baylor College of Medicine, right here in good ol’ Houston. The 32-year-old Nigerian native had every intention of spending her career in a lab, peering into a microscope and solving medical mysteries.
But then the doctor became the patient as she found a lump in her breast in 2006. At age 26 and halfway through her molecular virology doctorate, Chisa was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I didn’t think it was serious,” she said. “I was 26, I didn’t have a family history. I was busy in the lab, busy with publications.”
Cancer, however, has no regard for one’s schedule, plans, hopes, or dreams. Chisa learned this first-hand. After her diagnosis, Chisa’s professors suggested she put her studies on the back burner while she faced chemo, surgery, and radiation. But Chisa said no. She was determined to make sure cancer didn’t steal everything from her. She remained resolute in her goal of finishing school, and her attitude is inspiring. She said, “I didn’t want a pity party, I just wanted to be like everyone else and take care of my business. People go through more challenging things in life. I had hope to get well, good resources, good physician tools. Some people are worse — without anything — and they just keep going.”
Instead of feeling sorry for herself or asking “why me?” Chisa not only pushed through the endless parade of problems one confronts with a cancer diagnosis, she refocused her goal. After enduring endless doctor’s appointment, multiple body scans and medical tests, chemo brain, recovery from surgery, and fatigue from radiation, Chisa decided to get out of the lab and fight cancer from the front lines as a radiation oncologist. So after 4 years of med school, she will take on another 5 years of training to help others on this wretched cancer “journey.”
Being a young breast cancer survivor filled Chisa with “more of a sense of urgency” in pursuing her goals. “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. There is no time to complain or make excuses. Like everyone who goes through difficult times, you gain more strength, a sense that you can accomplish anything you want to do.”
With 2-year-old twin daughters at home and a lot of schoolwork ahead of her, Chisa is proving that she can indeed do anything she wants to do. What an inspiration.
She’s younger than me and has 3 kids, ages 6, 2 and an infant. She’s tall, slender and blonde. And she’s a renowned surgeon. If I didn’t like her so much, I might hate her a little.
But she’s gonna build my new boobs, so I love her.
We had a fantastic consultation today. Every aspect of her office, from the atmosphere to the staff, is first-rate. Beautiful waiting area, pleasant receptionist, warm & friendly nurses, a big Mac (computer, not burger) in the exam rooms, a fantastic physician’s assistant, a comprehensive bound photo book of before & after pictures of her patients, and of course the lovely doctor herself.
According to her website, “Her goal is to provide not only the most advanced breast restoration procedures, but also a caring and supportive environment—allowing each woman to complete a successful rehabilitation from her breast cancer battle.”
I like that. I’m especially intrigued by the idea of rehab from my battle. Sounds good.
How about this: “Dr. Spiegel is committed to providing superior, patient-focused care and preparing the next generation of surgeons to meet the highest standards of excellence. This vision combines a dedication to advanced research, exceptional education, and the development of new, less invasive treatments and procedures.”
She trained in general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and did her fellowship in reconstructive microsurgery and specialization in plastic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine where she was served as Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Spiegel has trained with leading reconstructive surgeons around the world, developing and improving upon techniques to help minimize the aftereffects of breast cancer on a woman’s body.
This just keeps getting better and better!
Here’s where we get into the medical mumbo-jumbo: “Dr. Spiegel’s clinical expertise is in advanced breast reconstruction techniques and microsurgery, particularly in the area of surgical reconstruction with reinnervated autologous muscle-preserving perforator flaps, including the DIEP Flap, SIEA Flap, SGAP Flap, TUG Flap, and the TAP flap. Dr. Spiegel also specializes in Lymphedema Procedures, advanced Implant and Latissmus reconstruction, and has pioneered Sensory Innervation procedures which have the ability to reestablish sensation to the breast resulting in the most complete form of breast restoration. In addition, she is interested in all aspects of aesthetic surgery and is committed to women’s health issues in plastic surgery.”
Sweet. She is the total package.
They were made of paper. And small. Really small. I spent a few seconds staring at them before thinking, one size does not fit all.
Egads. Cue the humiliation. Again.
Luckily, I’ve been humiliated in a doctor’s office before, so I’m ready for it and ok with it. I slipped on my pretty blue paper panties and the matching blue paper gown and prepared to meet my new savior, Dr Spiegel. I’m so glad I’m past caring about meeting a beautiful and successful doctor while wearing the most unflattering paper garments ever.
She answered all my questions, most importantly the one about weight gain. I’m good, I’m fat enough and don’t need to gain any more.
Whew, that’s a relief. I was getting pretty tired of drinking beer & eating chips. Now that I’ve bulked up, I am free to return to my normal, healthy eating. She said she would prefer to have a bit more building material, but she can work with what I’ve got, so I don’t have to worry about applying for a new zip code for all the junk in my trunk.
Now that’s a relief.
She’s planning my reconstruction, and it’s going to be pretty great. I’m actually starting to envision an end to this long, bumpy road. As much as I detest the idea of another hospital stay and recovery, I’m looking forward to closing the book on this chapter of my life. It’s such a cliche, but it’s true. Reconstruction is a big, scary step. I totally understand why some women never do it. And if not for the infection and the mess it left behind, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to do it myself.
But the infection did leave a nasty mess, and it continues to wreak havoc, and the best way to end that madness is to excise the tissue (again), and replace it with new tissue and a new blood supply.
It means a long surgery, a night in the ICU, and several additional nights in a regular room. Ugh, yuck, and ick. But, it will all be worth it when it’s done and I can say I’m truly on the other side of this wretched business.