Brittney, who helped her daughter Ashtyn through treatment for medulloblastoma at St. Jude, shares what it's like to be a front-line medical worker helping patients through a pandemic.
None of us thought we’d experience anything like this in our lifetime: Socially distanced, schools closed, travel and events canceled. It’s been a life much different than what we’re accustomed to, but as someone who works on the front lines, I know it’s necessary.
As a doctor, I’ve experienced patients with COVID-19. I’ve watched them deteriorate and have been helpless, not knowing what to add to help them. I’ve had to learn a disease process on the go and deal with constantly changing information that could affect my patients. This pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges of my life and my career. I’ve experienced sorrow and frustration. I’ve felt anxious. I’ve lost sleep. It often reminds me of the uncertainty my wife and I felt when our daughter was battling cancer.
In April 2018, our daughter Ashtyn was wobbly and dizzy during cheer practice. When she also started having headaches and vomiting, it was cause for concern. We learned from an MRI that Ashtyn had a brain tumor. Suddenly, I was experiencing medicine completely differently than I ever had before. I was both a family physician and a cancer mom.
Ashtyn’s oncologist referred us to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where our daughter underwent a second brain surgery, as well as proton therapy and chemotherapy, plus physical and occupational therapy and other supportive therapies. Now that she’s finished treatment and is doing well, to describe it in a single sentence like that does not touch what the experience was for us, the roller coaster of emotions. Fear, hope, confusion, sorrow, gratitude, joy ... sometimes all in the same day.
We got through that, and we will get through this. I channel my courage daily, even when fear nearly overtakes me. I persevere, even when I’m exhausted mentally and physically. I see the end even when it feels unattainable.
Early on in Ashtyn’s cancer journey, my wife and I had to hand it over to a higher power while continuing to do our very best for our family day by day. I’m taking a similar view now, as someone upholding my Hippocratic oath on the front lines during a pandemic. I press on, knowing someone greater than me is taking care of us.