When the Oncologist’s Mother Has Cancer

An unfamiliar role in a familiar setting

By Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS

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“I want you to talk to me like I’m one of your patients, not like I’m your mother.”

My mom’s familiar voice came over the car’s speakers via the Bluetooth connection to my phone as I drove home. She had left a voicemail an hour earlier asking me to call her back, which was never a good sign. My mother, still working as an administrator in Rhode Island at age 74, was not the type to mince words, nor ask for a return call to discuss trivialities. I asked her what was going on.

“I had a cold that wasn’t getting any better, so I went to an urgent care clinic to get some antibiotics.”

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I avoided the temptation to remind her that most colds were viral, and that antibiotics don’t alter their duration. Naturally, she knew that I would tell her that, and thus she didn’t mention she was going to urgent care in the first place. So it goes with mothers and sons, particularly when one of those sons is a doctor. She continued.

Read the full New York Times column by Dr. Sekeres, Director of Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center’s Leukemia Program. You can follow him on Twitter @MikkaelSekeres.