By: Erica Radhakrishnan
One of my most memorable patients, named Erica, wrote her own blog post and shared it with me today. As one of my final posts before the Ironman, I thought it would be very much appropriate to share someone else’s perspective as to what its like to be on the other side of the cancer treatment and what Ironcology means to them:
“At thirty-four years of age, I had plans. After having deferred the pursuit of a medical career to be a stay-at-home mom to four, beautiful daughters while my husband completed his veterinary specialty training, the time had arrived for me to apply to a post-baccalaureate, pre-med program in Louisville. I always wanted to be a doctor. My dad is doctor. My in-laws are doctors. My friends are doctors. I practically grew up in a doctor’s office. I know how to be a doctor. I understand the personal, familial, and financial sacrifices, the ridiculous time commitment, stressors, and the overwhelming joys and sorrows that the profession can bring. Despite this knowledge, I still wanted to be a doctor. However, in addition to pursuing a career in medicine, I also had set a personal goal to complete a Half-Ironman by 35 and an Ironman by my late thirties. To me, Ironman represents the pinnacle of physical achievement – something that I aspired to accomplish. To be honest, I was well on my way to succeeding, too. By this point, I was in the best shape of my life. I had trained and competed in a handful of both Sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons and ran a few half marathons. I even, crazily, ran the Louisville Derby Half-Marathon significantly pregnant with my youngest daughter. (As you can tell, I do nothing half-heartedly.) A Half-Ironman was the next logical step. Then, my body betrayed me. I distinctly remember running and finishing the Bluegrass 10,000 and thinking, “I either can’t or just don’t want to do this anymore.” It was very strange and felt completely wrong. Despite this sensation, I continued to train and each time I did, it was the same inexplicable feeling. Until, I had an itch – one, simple itch; and there it was – a small, hard lump…cancer; and I don’t know how, but I knew it. I don’t think I can adequately explain the devastation that THAT one, six-letter word can bring to a human being. Suffice it to say, that all the plans I had made were gone with one, little scratch.
The next three years were rough. They were filled with multiple surgeries, two life-threatening infections, one near death experience, and countless medications with a myriad of side effects. I wish I could tell you that through it all, I remained the same driven, goal-setting, butt-kicking, Jersey girl that I was born to be, but I would be lying. Cancer had a way of not only ravaging my body physically, but it invaded every intimate fiber of my being from my waking thoughts to my familial relationships to my finances to my ability to even produce the simplest of cogent sentences – all of THIS, even though my prognosis was better than good. The truth is I was terrified. I was SO afraid of dying, that I had stopped living. Until, I was diagnosed with cancer a second time. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true, and Dr. Feddock is big reason why.
The second time I was diagnosed, I had surgery and received chemotherapy, again. But, this time I needed radiation. This meant I needed another doctor added to my team, a radiation oncologist. At my initial consultation, I was assigned to a seasoned, female physician. She had been practicing medicine for a number of years and was a very good doctor, but I felt a lack of understanding – a disconnect. Here I was a young, previously athletic woman, who wanted to live, but more importantly, to be as close to my “normal” as possible. She was patient, kind, and gave me all of her expertise and knowledge, but I left her office sad, dejected, and downright depressed. I was worried about permanent vital organ damage and thought I would never be able to use my arm again, let alone swim and more importantly that I would no longer be able to wear my wedding rings! My husband can verify that I was a complete basket case. The next appointment I had with her, she informed me that she was retiring and at some point would be passing my care on to her successor. I know this sounds crazy again, but this can be very disarming news to a cancer patient. I’m thinking, “Wait! What? I have to get a new doctor. But, you know my case. You know my body. You did all of the physics calculations. I know we’re not pals, but uh, are you sure?” And, like that, she was gone. My next visit, the first time I was to receive radiation, I had a new doctor.
I remember sitting in the exam room waiting for this new doctor to come in and creating all sorts of hurdles in my mind that I was going to need to jump over to get through this thing called radiation; and then in walked Dr. Feddock. He was completely the antithesis of the image I had created in my mind. Remember, I know a little bit about doctors; and I knew immediately that he was different. Based on my experiences, I also knew that he had to be an athlete and had a suspicion that he may be a triathlete. We exchanged pleasantries and began to examine my case. We discussed the typical medical-related things you would expect, but Dr. Feddock saw me as more than just a patient. He took the time to find out about who I was as a person – a mother, a wife, a former fellow triathlete, and a very frightened, young woman who wanted nothing more than to grow old with her husband and children. He encouraged me to use my arm, stressed the importance of stretching it throughout and after my treatments, to return to exercise, and to eventually swim again once it was safe for my skin to do so. Most importantly, he listened to me.
With his encouragement, I eventually decided to train for another half marathon – Lexington’s Run the Bluegrass. Now for those of you who do not know, both Dr. Feddock and his wife are Run the Bluegrass rock stars. They have each won and placed in the top three in their age groups at some point. At my next appointment after the race, Dr. Feddock said five words that continue to motivate me and truly touch my heart to this day. He said, “I am proud of you.” Those words coming from him have had a profound, positive effect on my overall wellbeing. I truly admire him for not only his career and triathlon accomplishments, but also for his humanistic and compassionate qualities. If you haven’t seen the video of him jumping off of a cliff, I can honestly tell you that he will do almost anything for his patients. He even took the time to cheer me on at a small, local, sprint triathlon. Who does that, but only an extraordinarily thoughtful, humble, and kind individual. That is why Ironcology is more than worthy of your donation. Through his efforts and commitment, Dr. Feddock can and will improve the lives of thousands of women, children, and families in Kentucky. I feel extremely fortunate to call him my doctor and am grateful for his example. Therefore, I have decided to make some plans again. I am going to take the next year to train and finally complete a Half Ironman. In addition to my own donation, I am setting a goal to raise an additional $2500 to donate to Ironcology. Good Luck, Dr. Feddock! I will be cheering you on!”