One hell of a week #lobectomy #pneumothorax #SMAsyndrome #NGtube #forceddiet #tethered

When I first started this blog, it was intended to keep friends and family updated on my journey, but throughout the years this has also become a place where fellow ALK positive cancer survivors can learn to help inform their treatments as well. All this to say, the below may be very medically dense so be warned!

Last Thursday, I woke up bright and early at 4am to arrive in Charlottesville at 5:30am for the big procedure. I was the first case of the day so I expected to be in recovery shortly after lunchtime. Being the wonderful wife that she is, Varisara arrived in the recovery room with a bag full of pastries and bread because she knew I would be hungry after the surgery (which I was). She told me that she talked to Dr. Martin and the surgery went well – they removed the upper left lobe and a few lymph nodes as planned, but they also had to remove part of the lower left lobe unexpectedly as well because the disease appeared to be attached to the fissures between the upper and lower lobes. This caused a moderate volume pneumothorax, when air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall, which meant that the chest tube would likely need to stay in for longer than I initially expected (I was hoping to be out of there in 2 days).

That afternoon, I generally felt ok but had a bit of brain fog and nausea, which I assumed was from the anesthesia medication. I pretty much just stayed in bed with my eyes closed for the afternoon, but I did chow down on some croissants, bread, and Sour Patch Kids hoping that all would somehow help the nausea. That night, I went to bed fine, but I woke up in the middle of the night to vomit twice, each time expelling over a liter of fluid.

The next day, they removed my foley catheter because they expected me to begin moving around to help with recovery – boy, were they wrong! I was no longer nauseous, but I was starting to feel the pain. Oddly, the pain was not in my chest; rather, it was in my abdomen. I didn’t eat much because of the pain and every time I took a sip of water, I felt very full. It gradually worsened throughout the day; my abdomen felt like it was getting more firm and it was getting harder to breathe as the day progressed. By mid-morning, breathing was incredibly difficult and my breaths became very shallow – so much that I could not talk or keep my eyes open. When I was originally diagnosed with cancer, I always feared that I would not live as long as my peers and that night, I felt that I was pushed to the limits and death or serious complications were about to occur. Over time the doctors grew more and more concerned and thought that it was strange that my pain level was at a 10 out of 10, but I felt no pain at the surgical site. They decided to do a CT scan to figure out what was going on.

Radiology noted that the blockage appeared to be Superior Mesenteric Artery (SMA) syndrome, a digestive condition that occurs when the duodenum is compressed between two arteries (the aorta and the superior mesenteric artery). Traditionally, SMA syndrome occurs over a long period of time and is due to rapid weight loss. Personally, I don’t believe this was SMA syndrome because I had minimal weight loss (part of which was the lung that was removed) and the blockage occurred rapidly. I think the cause of the problem is very similar, but was rather due to my gastrointestinal system still being asleep from anesthesia when I rapidly consumed my food immediately after surgery. This as a post-operative complication was so bizarre that Dr. Martin said she had never seen something like this in her 20 years in practice.

Illustration of SMA syndrome

The obstruction in my duodenum caused me to be massively distended (and when I say MASSIVE, I mean it was the size of a watermelon). Now that we knew WHAT was wrong with me, we needed to figure out HOW to fix it. They immediately put in a nasogastric (NG) tube up my nose and down to my stomach to suction out the fluid. I was not allowed to eat or drink anything – not even a sip of water – until they were able to decompress my stomach. This included oral medications, which meant I had to stop taking Alectinib (my cancer medication) until this was resolved. They also had to reinsert the foley catheter to drain my bladder because of my decreased mobility (Pro tip: I would NOT recommend doing this awake if at all possible). At this point, going anywhere proved to be logistical challenge with a chest tube from the surgery, the NG tube, several lines of IVs and now a foley catheter.

They also discussed potentially inserting another tube into my intestines past the obstruction to pump food and nutrients into my body, but I already felt tethered to the bed due to all the other tubes and IVs. Fortunately, the Thoracic team consulted with the experts on the abdomen (i.e., the General Surgery team) to determine next steps. They suggested monitoring to see if my body could naturally alleviate the blockage and only recommended the nasogastric tube feeding only as an escalated alternative. We decided to drain the stomach for the next day, provide nutrition through Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), an intravenous method of feeding people by giving nutrients through an IV, and monitor for improvement.

For the next day or so, I was in pretty intense pain ranging from a 4 when I was heavily medicated (with Ketamine, Toradol, IV Acetaminophen, and Dilaudid) to an 8 when the medication wore off, but the pain was becoming more “normal” for the surgery that I had (i.e., the pain slowly shifted from my abdomen to the chest). In the one day that I had the NG tube suction in my stomach, roughly 4 liters of liquid was drained! Now with less liquid in my belly and a tolerable pain level, I knew that I needed to get up and walk around; not only to help the healing process for the lungs, but also to get my bowels moving so that my body could correct the obstruction spontaneously.

By Sunday, my surgical recovery for my lung was going relatively well. The pneumothorax had decreased in size since, which meant they were able to remove my chest tube as well as the foley catheter. This was a huge win and had it not been for the intestinal obstruction, I would have been discharged. Alas, I remained in the hospital – now with just 1 tube and multiple IV lines.

With the lobectomy recovery in a good spot, I focused my efforts on correcting the intestinal obstruction and reducing my reliance on medications administered by IV.

For the gastric (stomach) distension, we decided to clamp the NG tube for 4 hours to test the level of blockage. If the drainage was under an acceptable threshold (less than 250ML), then I would be able to start very slowly with small sips of water. After 4 hours, we drained 150ML from my stomach – well under the threshold – so I was finally able to have my first sips of water in 2 days. Talk about refreshing! Since I felt well after my water trial, they removed the NG tube and advanced my diet the next morning. Clear liquids was my Monday diet plan (I had lots of Gatorade, soup broth, jello, and more water). By Tuesday, my body seemed to be responding well to the clear liquids so I was advanced to a full liquid diet. By that evening, I was advanced to a transitional diet (very bland, easy to digest food) and I could start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

All the while, I was slowly trying to transition myself to oral pain medications. When I was upgraded to a clear liquid diet, I transitioned to liquid Tylenol, ibuprofen, oxycodone. Then when I could have a full liquid diet, I was able to start back on my Alectinib after being off for 3 days and added Gabapentin (for pain) and Robaxin (muscle relaxer). By Tuesday night, I also transitioned off Ketamine and Toradol and was only using Dilaudid as needed when there were bouts of intense pain.

By Wednesday, I was back on a full diet and adequately managing my pain via oral options. I felt like I had made a complete 180 from where I was on Friday and thankfully the surgical team agreed – I was discharged that afternoon! When I went in, I thought I would be home by the weekend. Dr. Martin indicated that lobectomy patients typically stay in the hospital for 2-6 days and being young and relatively healthy, I expected to be out on the lower end of that range. Here I was 6 days later, but SO glad to be out.

Finally out of the hospital after 6 days!

Since being home, I’ve had some pain at my chest tube and incision sites and I’ve noticed that walking up and down stairs is a bit more difficult, but nothing unusual for having a quarter+ of my lung removed. I’ve felt great otherwise and I was even able to take Avery to her Kindergarten sneak peak 2 days after leaving the hospital! I know that recovery will take time, but I am just so glad that things are are starting to level out – I’ve had my fair share of excitement in the past 10 days.

It’s not life without the occasional speed bump #oligoprogression #alectinib #52monthsPFS #surgery #controllingthedisease #daddydaughterweddingduties

Thursday April 21, 2022 – Another day to add to my timeline in this battle. After 4 years of clear scans, my progression free survival (PFS) on Alectinib as a first line treatment is 52 months. Something felt off all day on that Thursday when I had my routine scans and appointment at UVA.

After having 16 CT scans since starting this journey, I knew what to expect walking into each. There is a certain chill I’ve come to anticipate during the scan and this time, the chill was delayed. When we were called in for my appointment with Dr. Hall, the wait in the room seemed longer than usual. I knew something was off when he entered the room. Usually, when Dr. Hall enters the room the first thing he says is “your scans look good”. This time he asked “how are you feeling?”. He pulled up my most recent and past CT scans and it revealed an area above the original tumor site in the lung that has started lighting up brighter over the past 18 months. In past scans, it has appeared as ground glass, but this time there was definitely something more substantial.

Just to be sure we decided to have Dr. Hall present my case at tumor board the following week where the oncologist, radiologist, radiation oncologist, and thoracic surgeon specializing in cancer meet weekly to discuss unique cases. It was a long weekend of waiting to hear back and finally on Tuesday night, I received a call from Dr. Hall. After looking at the scans from different angles, they confirmed that something was changing and it was concerning in the upper left lobe of the lung. Initially at my appointment, we had discussed radiation; however, after reviewing the scans at tumor board, they discovered there were spiculations coming out of the lesion that the radiation may not be able to completely eradicate. After a long conversation about options, I asked Dr. Hall what he would if he were in my shoes and he said he would surgically remove it to ensure we got it all. This would also allow us to test the tissue to see what type of resistance the tumor may have acquired. Similar to COVID and other viral diseases, the cancer cells are being kept at bay by the medication I take everyday but over time the disease always wins and develops a new mutation that outsmarts the medications. The goal of surgery would be to remove the cells that have figured out how to beat the medication in hopes of continuing the same treatment regimen. This is important because there are not very many options after this pill and would likely lead to a chemotherapy, which has not been shown to be as effective as the medications I currently take.

After my phone call discussion with Dr. Hall came the marathon of scans and appointments the following Wednesday. I had an MRI on the brain and PET scan of the rest of the body to determine if this was oligoprogression, a state where a single/few lesions display further progression after an initially successfully systemic therapy. Fortunately, the scans confirmed there was only the single spot of progression in the lung and after another appointment with Dr. Hall to review the scans, we elected for surgery as the next course of action. I also had blood taken for a liquid biopsy with Guardant, which tests your blood for circulating tumor DNA to allow for molecular analysis to understand if there are specific targetable mutations for better treatment planning in the future.

PET Scan showing the increased uptake in the left lung where the tumor is suspected to be from CT scans. It may sound weird but I was glad that the PET scan was positive because I no longer had to make the difficult decision of treating the tumor vs waiting and watching if the test had been inconclusive.

Next, I met with Dr. Linda Martin, a thoracic surgeon at UVA. She works with Dr. Hall on the tumor board and was highly praised by other surgeons within her field. After speaking with her about the procedure, we decided to move forward with scheduling the surgery to remove the upper left lobe, which is quite a large chunk. I was expecting to have minimally invasive surgery so that my recovery would be quick and the incisions would be small, but due to the previous history of cancer in my chest there was concern that too much scar tissue would be present. The scar tissue would have made it difficult to adequately remove the cancer and surrounding lymph nodes with only a minimally invasive approach. This means I would be having a more aggressive open approach, thoracotomy, to remove the left upper lobe of my lung. Since I was already at the hospital, I also completed my pre-anesthesia evaluation for the surgery. It was a very long day, but I was glad to come out of it with a very clear plan. Next up, I have a pulmonary function test scheduled for 5/19 and then the big surgery will be on 5/26.

I knew this day would come at some point because we still haven’t been able to figure out how to stop the disease from outsmarting the targeted therapies. I was hoping that it wouldn’t have occurred as soon, but I am very grateful to have beat the average PFS for Alectinib of 34.5 by almost 1.5 years. I have also seen great success continuing on Alectinib following targeted removal of oligoprogressive lesions from other ALK positive survivors and am hopeful that removing this one spot will allow me to continue on the Alectinib for many more years.

After 2 long weeks, I was able to take my mind off of everything that was going on with my health and reconnect with many of my colleagues at the wedding of one of my fellow OMFS attending’s (and former co-resident), where I was a groomsman and Avery was the flower girl. We were so honored to be part of the celebration for Drs. Daniel and Annie Hawkins.

Everyone has hiccups and speed bumps that occur throughout their life. But these hurdles that occur shine light on the many things that I am thankful for. I have co-workers and a department that have been so understanding and have made sure that I have as much time as I need to heal and recover. I have friends and family that have shown so much support and love as I shared this terrible news. I have the most amazing wife who has stood by my side and been my rock as I weather this storm. In case I don’t say it enough, thank you all for everything. It has been a very tough few weeks (to say the least), but for now I will continue to live life one day at a time and savor every moment!

So many reasons to celebrate #4yearcancerversary #boardcertified #DisneyWorld #HakunaMatata

Since my last update, I have had many things to celebrate. First and foremost, I turned 4 (in cancer years) on December 17th! This year, we celebrated in Turks and Caicos (Avery’s choice!) and were able to get some much needed time away. As I reflect on the past 4 years, it’s been an incredible and unexpected journey. Initially there were a lot of ups and downs, but now it’s been much smoother and for that I’m grateful. I know there will be some rocky paths in the future (hopefully way in the future), but for now I’m happy to continue on the same treatment with minimal hiccups.

Another big thing to celebrate: CLEAR SCANS! I made my quarterly trek to Charlottesville to visit my oncologist after the New Year where I got the all clear. One of the things that this disease has best taught me can be summarized in one of my favorite quotes: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift! That is why it is called the present. Every visit makes me realize what a gift I’ve been given to have 3 months of worry-free living after each of these scans.

And living I have done! Since my last update, we had 4 holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years x2) and went on 3 trips. My in-laws moved to Richmond in 2021 and my parents came down so this holiday season was the first year in a long time that we didn’t have to make the arduous journey up I-95 to Northern Virginia to visit family. It always feels great to be able to celebrate another holiday season with loved ones.

In addition to our Turks and Caicos trip, I was able to celebrate two “firsts”. I went to my first NASCAR race at the Daytona 500 and to Disney World for the first time EVER! Disney World was every bit as magical as I had imagined, and even though it took 34 years, I’m glad I was able to share it with my daughter. It was incredible seeing her face light up from all of her favorite Disney princesses. Even better, it was the 50th year anniversary celebration – the world’s most MAGICAL celebration!

Perhaps the icing on top of the cake of all the celebrations, I took and PASSED the final part of the the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS) certification exam. Talk about magical, I found out in Disney World that I passed my exam and officially became a board certified oral and facial surgeon!

I’m so fortunate and thankful to have been given the opportunity to experience all of these events. Four years ago, I would have never thought it was possible, but thanks to cancer research I’ve been given a second chance. I’m still crossing my fingers for a cure so I can continue to have these wonderful life experiences and achievements. Until then, I’m just going to keep enjoying the present.

THANKFUL FOR ANOTHER YEAR #happybirthdaytome #34yearsyoung #clearscans #bucketlist #makingMemories

As I celebrated yet another birthday (34 years young!) and our annual partnership with Wild Ginger RVA kicked off, I realized how long it has been since I last updated my blog. You know what they say: no news is good news. Since my last post, I’ve had 2 scans and both were clear!

It’s a bit surreal to think it’s possible, but as the years pass and the scans remain stable it has definitely become a reality that I can forget that I have cancer for the ~2 1/2 months following a scan and live a relatively normal life. After a year of being cooped up due to COVID, I have been fortunate enough to watch 5 friends get married, traveled on 3 trips, and performed countless surgeries all in the past 6 months.

It has been really nice to see people who I haven’t been able to see in many months (and in some cases – years) and show off my dance moves at all the COVID makeup weddings this year.

After a long year, it was amazing to be able to take my daughter on vacation (she now calls Mexico our “vacation home”)

and to check off a bucket list item with my beautiful wife in Greece.

Making up for lost time, we are not done with weddings and already planning for at least 4 trips in the next year. Cheers to a return to normalcy (or at least the new normal)!

In addition to fun, we also are continuing our advocacy for lung cancer. For the third year in a row, we are partnering with Wild Ginger to raise funds for lung cancer research. For any Richmonders or those passing through Richmond, stop by Wild Ginger to get the Tran Roll a.k.a. Lungevity Roll. A portion of each roll sold will be donated to fund ALK Positive lung cancer research. Remember, November is Lung Cancer Awareness month so stop in and get one today!

Livin’ life a quarter year at a time #alectinib #39months #boringisgood #burgerbach #givingback

I made my quarterly trek to Charlottesville earlier this month and everything remains stable! My scans look the same as they did the first time I got the good news over 3 years ago. I even talked to my oncologist, Dr. Hall, about how routine these appointments have gotten and that boring appointments are good appointments. I couldn’t ask for anything more and just pray the medication keeps responding this well indefinitely.

I also wanted to provide an update from my last post related to the partnership with Burger Bach to raise money for ALK Positive. Thanks to everyone who sacrificed their six-pack abs (don’t worry – summer is still 3 months away) to support lung cancer research, we were able to raise $1,117 to fund further advancements in ALK rearranged lung cancer research. We even received support from friends from Harrisonburg!

May be an image of James Hiter Jr and burger
Lung cancer survivor from Harrisonburg, VA at Burger Bach Charlottesville

I also wanted to sincerely thank Burger Bach for GIVING BACH and helping to support ALK Positive lung cancer patients from around the WORLD. From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!

ALK Positive + Burger Bach = LIFE #smacattack

In partnership with Burger Bach, a local New Zealand inspired gastropub, we are working to raise money for ALK Positive during the entire month of March! For every S’Mac Attack sold during the month, $1 will go to help fund research for further advancement in cancer treatments. Support small business and a good cause this month and stop by a participating Burger Bach near you (Richmond – Short Pump and Midlothian (sorry no Carytown), Charlottesville, and Durham, NC)!

We had these for dinner the other night and let me tell you, these burgers are AMAZING! Between the juicy burger, delicious sauces, and cheesy mac, you can’t go wrong. Just thinking about it, I think we’re going to need another burger night this weekend 🙂

Happy New Year! #cancerversary #cheersto3years #vaccinated #advocacy #wildginger

As we begin the new year, I wanted to take the time to pause and reflect. December 16 marked 3 years since my initial diagnosis. That is 3 years of life which, at the time, I wasn’t expecting to get. I remember hoping to hear my daughter’s first words, watch her first steps and thinking that my career was over. Now, Avery says “I love you daddy” and quickly runs away from me. As for my career, if you’ve read my prior posts, you know that I finished my residency and I’m an attending at VCU. I got my last scans on Thursday and things continue to be stable so I’ll be staying the course on Alectinib.

Christmas 2020

I would be remiss not to also reflect on 2020. Like everyone else, COVID-19 has hit us hard. We have, for the most part, been extra cautious (i.e. wearing masks everywhere, using Instacart/curbside pickup, meeting with limited friends outdoors and socially distanced) and are craving the next time we will be able to go on a real vacation (Lake Anna was been nice, but we would like to go a little further than 45 minutes away). Fortunately, I see getting outside of VA sometime in 2021 a real possibility. I received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday and I am hopeful that anyone else who wants one will be able to get it soon!

Getting my COVID vaccine

Fortunately, we were also able to continue our advocacy for lung cancer in 2020. As I mentioned in my last blog post, we partnered again with Wild Ginger in Midlothian, VA for my birthday to raise funds for lung cancer research. Between the partnership with Wild Ginger and donations from family and friends who donated directly to my birthday fundraiser, we raised just over $2,500 for ALK Positive. Although that was less than we made last year, I am so grateful for every dollar that we raised and thankful that Wild Ginger made this possible by supporting our efforts in such a tough year for most restaurants and small businesses.

Another way to show advocacy is by spreading the word so people understand that lung cancer doesn’t discriminate based on age, perceived health, socioeconomic status or even on whether or not you smoke. Since I am a prime example of this (quick recap: I was 30 when I was diagnosed, no other health conditions, on my way to being a surgeon, and didn’t smoke), getting my story out in my community is one of the biggest ways I can contribute. In January 2021, oral surgeons across the country will be able to read my story as the featured article in AAOMS (American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon) Today, our bi-monthly newsletter

We hope to continue our advocacy into 2021 and already have plans to keep it going, so stay turned!

Another year in the clear #birthday #covidvacation #fundraiser

Although the days seem long during the pandemic, this year is flying by! I can’t believe 3 months have already passed since my last scan. First off, what everyone is interested in: I went in for a scan last month and things remain stable. COVID-19 precautions are still full scale, but otherwise it felt like a routine appointment.

Since my last post in July, I have been settling into my new role as an OMFS Attending at VCU Medical Center. It has been a fun and relatively easy transition from being a resident to becoming an attending, and I think it is due to the fact that I had completed my residency here. It feels more like a natural progression instead of starting a new job completely. I do appreciate the autonomy and finally calling my own shots during surgery. One of the perks of the new job is having my own office!!! It looks pretty boring but it’s nice to have my own space.

View from my chair

We also managed to get in a couple of trips away from home. Before COVID-19 hit, we had grand plans to take a trip to Europe for a few weeks to celebrate completing my training and explore new places that we’ve never been. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen this year (maybe next year?), but we were at least able to have a couple of nice family trips to nearby Lake Anna. We were able to spend time away with Avery’s cousins, my in-laws, and some close family friends.

Last month, I also celebrated by 33rd birthday. Varisara helped to start a fundraiser during my birthday month last year to raise money for ALK Positive lung cancer research. This year we were unable to have a dinner event like last year (for obvious reasons), but thanks to my cousin, Liem Tran, and his amazing work family we were again able to partner with Wild Ginger in Midlothian, VA. Liem created a very special Tran Roll that was available for the whole month of October where $4 from every roll sold will go toward research for ALK Positive lung cancer. In a time that has not been easy for small businesses, we are extremely grateful for the support and glad we have been able to support small businesses as well (we have ordered takeout from there almost every week!). Even more fortunately, Wild Ginger will continue to have the Tran Roll available until the end of the year! I guess sushi will be on the menu in the Tran household weekly for the rest of the year 🙂

If you are not local to Richmond and also wanted to support the cause, feel free to donate directly to my ALK Positive campaign here: https://lungevity.donordrive.com/campaign/Dan-s-Birthday

What a month! #familyouting #27thgrade #finallydone #clearscans

It has only been a month since my last post, but it has been a busy month! As I mentioned in my last post, I have throughly enjoyed spending quality time with family. We had our first family outing since we began quarantining 4 months ago in March. We had a great Saturday in Charlottesville strawberry picking at Chiles Family Orchard and picnicking at King Family Vineyards. We felt very comfortable with the safety standards and operations at both places and of course, we stayed socially distant from others and wore masks (even Avery!).

833D400B-B108-4CBC-A55F-FB5642407D97_1_105_c.jpeg DFC71BDD-D962-4B26-9B41-C2EA44978F14_1_105_c

The next week I completed my training in Oral and Facial Surgery, closing out 27 years of education. I asked Varisara (semi-jokingly) what she thought about me going back to get my MBA (what’s another 2 years, right?). She did not seem pleased. We had originally planned a big hurrah to celebrate this accomplishment, but obviously COVID-19 deterred our plans a bit. I was grateful to be able to have a small celebration with my family as well as my attendings and fellow residents, all the people that helped to get me through these past few years.

0696B78A-BBCE-410D-833E-403E6FF92F05_1_105_c.jpeg

In all honesty, when I was first diagnosed 2.5 years ago, I never thought this would be even remotely possible. Now, I have accomplished my life goal of becoming a surgeon. Although I am not going back to school (Varisara won that battle….for now), I will be remain in academia as an OMFS attending at VCU.

This past Thursday, I had my latest scans and appointments. For those interested in my treatment plan, I take Alectinib (for the cancer) and Eliquis (blood thinner to prevent clots) daily. Every 3 months I get a CT scan to make sure the disease is stable in the lungs and bones and every 6 months I get an MRI to ensure the disease has not spread to the brain.  This past appointment was again different from the new norm to which I had become accustom.  When we arrived at Emily Couric Cancer Center at UVA, masks were required, every person entering the facility was required to have their temperature taken, and no guests were permitted. I appreciate the rigor as the majority of people entering these facilities are at higher risks due to their medical conditions. Aside from that, all went well and both scans continued to remain stable!

Is this a simulation? #westworld #covid19 #telehealth #quarantined #perspective

Saying that a lot has happened in the 5 months since my last post would be an understatement. If you asked me in February “what is the craziest thing you ever lived through?”, cancer would unequivocally be #1 and the only thing I could have come up with. Now in just a few short months, I have added a pandemic and global movement  against social injustice. I have found myself asking many times “is this a simulation?” (this should resonate for any Westworld fans). In this blog post, I am going to provide my perspectives on everything that has taken place over the past few months from 3 different vantage points: as a doctor, as a patient, and as a father.

Doctor: In January 2020, the first case of an unknown virus called COVID-19 entered the US, but we didn’t start to feel the impacts of this unknown strand of coronavirus until March 2020. I didn’t realize how serious it was until things began to shutdown. If you recall, I work in a hospital as an Oral and Facial Surgery resident. Before this, hospitals NEVER shut down. Little did I know that when I walked in for a training on March 16th, it would be the last day I set foot into VCU Medical Center for months. I remember having conversations that day with peers about potential scenarios and closures that may occur. Sure enough, everything (i.e. the dental school, clinics, operating rooms) closed for anything that was not considered an emergency. We knew very little about the the coronavirus, but there were a few things that we did know: 1) it had potentially severe respiratory impacts, which is not great for anyone who had pre-existing conditions impacting the lungs like me, and 2) it was a very fluid situation and would change daily.  As a department, we had to scramble to figure out a schedule for our residents and attendings that would minimize potential exposure to COVID-19 as well as how to continue our education in a remote environment having been entirely in-person until that point, all without an understanding of how long this would endure. Knowing that stage 4 lung cancer made me a higher risk patient, my department worked to minimize any need for me to go into the hospital. That meant virtual learning / lectures and telehealth, which are probably the least enjoyable parts of my job. As a surgeon, I love being in the OR and performing surgery; however, we all knew that preserving my health was the best thing for everyone.  

After months of remote working, I finally re-entered the hospital for the first time since this all began this past Monday, June 8th and went right back into the OR, a place that has always provided me an escape. I am ecstatic to be able to finish my training in the hospital because in just 16 days, my 27 years of education will be complete as I finish my OMFS residency.

Patient: It was an interesting experience going in for my quarterly scan in April as a patient. Usually, these appointments take up almost an entire day, but this time they split up the appointments. My scans and bloodwork were one day and my usual appointment with Dr. Hall was over the phone. For my scans and bloodwork, it was eerie seeing an empty hospital and empty waiting rooms.  Only people who absolutely needed to be seen were in the hospital and everyone was wearing a mask. I was thankful that UVA had taken proper precautions to protect their patients and staffAs for my call with Dr. Hall, it was funny being on the other side of the phone for a telehealth appointment (I wonder if he feels the same way as I do about them?). The important thing though was the scans remained stable and we are staying the course. My next visit is in just a few weeks so fingers crossed that everything still looks good!

Father: The other thing that I’ve gained in these past 5 months is a lot of perspective about being a parent and about the world in the year 2020. Since I worked remotely for almost 3 months, I probably spent more time with my daughter during this quarantine than I had all of in 2019 combined. I cherished waking up to her happy face in the mornings and singing her to bed every night. It made me appreciate being a parent more than ever before.

The spread of COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan, China, caused a rise in hate crimes toward the asian community. This rise in violent racism toward asians had personally concerned me and and made me start to worry more for the safety of my family, especially for my 2 year old daughter. Is she going to have to grow up in a world where she constantly has to look over her shoulder? I say this not to take pity on the asian community for being wrongfully attacked, but to acknowledge and understand that the recent insurgence against racial injustice are not without merit.

In light of all the recent protests over the death of George Floyd, I realized the worry that I felt for Avery is not even a fraction of the fear and concern that black people have endured for centuries. I have spent a lot of time trying to educate myself and listen to what is being asked for and what I’ve heard is nothing more than a cry to have a fair chance in this crazy world. I have found these videos to be great resources to help me better understand and broadened my perspectives on the situation:

Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we are all humans. I hope the humanity in us helps us to recognize that all people, regardless of color, race or religion, have a right to a fair chance at life. As a father, I hope to teach my daughter to grow up to be an educated and respectful young woman with an open mind and an open heart.