How To Become A Cancer Doctor

Start with one excellent childhood experience—a loved one who is cured.

Add a generous helping of baseline optimism, a cup at least.  More is better.

Mix in well a half cup of ability to suspend disbelief.  And then, maybe a pinch more.

Add a teaspoon or two or even three of denial.  Pollyanna had it right.


Remember to include an ounce of prevention—

Worth a pound of cure, so they say.  Suspend a quart of judgement, or two.

Make sure the oven is preheated with family.  Children help sweeten the mix.

Add three pets, or more.  A dog to welcome you home.  Two cats to curl up with.


Believe, truly believe in the best of all outcomes.

“Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”  Voltaire knew.

A gallon of forgetfulness goes a long way to wash the silt of failure away.

When there is nothing else, pray. Or wish.  Or hope.  Or desire.


Ice the cake of sadness with a sweet coating of self-forgiveness.

And when that recipe fails, start again.  Be kind.  Your patients are waiting.


  1. I would just put prayer at the top of the list, not as a last resort.. As a retired radiation oncology nurse, on my initial assessment of my patients I prayed with those patients who I could sense needed that extra touch of love. I would of course ask them first and no one refused my offer. This poem is so like the radiation docs that i worked with. They believed in the best outcome in the direst situation. They gave hope to our patients. They were always kind to our patients. You were spot on about needing a little denial, a lot of optimism, and suspending disbelief. I had never thought of it in those terms, but that is exactly what it takes and what the doctors i worked with had! This is just a wonderful piece!!

  2. Your enduring compassion has made you an exceptional doctor. I’m sure you still cry. And having been – and still am – on the other side of this dynamic – that gives you soul. We Cancer warriors sense that, and for that we say thanks.

  3. An excellent recipe, Miranda, to which I’d suggest only one additional ingredient– just a dash of Serendipity. It’s in that little old jar at the end of the spice rack, above the Leafgreen, next to the Freshwind.

    1. Stacey, I’ve received more than a few letters like that over the years. The best kind of letters! Of course, there are patients that I am still in touch with, as friends, one who is 25 years out from treatment. My essay about her on this blog is called, “If Wishes Were Horses.”

  4. I don’t know how anyone can tolerate a career in Oncology but as a stage IV cancer patient, I wish I could hug all of you! Thank you, Doctors, Nurses, Researchers for fighting to keep me alive!

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