Another unforgettable moment during my fellowship was the first time one of my patients passed away. We all have encountered death during our training (eg, intensive care unit rotations), but when you care for patients during their cancer journey, you develop a strong bond with them and their families. I remember receiving a message saying that “Mr M has passed away,” and immediately an incredible sense of sorrow pervaded my day. I asked myself, “Is this the right job for me?” and I questioned my decision to pursue a career in oncology. At the end of that day, I mustered the courage to call my patient’s family to offer my condolences. His wife picked up the phone and with a warm voice said, “Dr Duma, thank you for taking care of him. You two had a special connection.” A few tears rolled down my cheek, and all the fear disappeared—I had chosen the right field. After my 2 years of training in hematology-oncology, losing patients has not gotten easier, but I will always carry their memories and will continue fighting for them through my everyday clinical practice and research.
As you start your fellowship, you may feel lonely. You started with a class of 20-plus residents, and eventually you end up with a few fellows. That friend with whom you always had rotations together is no longer around. Going through a hematology-oncology fellowship is a life-changing experience that you share with only a few individuals. Over time, you will develop strong friendships with your co-fellows. They will become your confidantes, advisers, and even the future godparents of your children. James Cash Penney, founder of the retail store JCPenney, said, “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”
Lastly, ups and downs are common. One day your patient has a complete response and another day disease progression. Learning how to celebrate little victories has helped me to cope with the battles I have lost. Fellowship training has not only helped me grow as a physician but has also helped me become a better wife, daughter, friend, and teacher. I know the journey will not end after I secure a faculty position, but my experiences have taught me a lesson: We are lifelong learners, and we are not alone during this journey.