Tori’s Spirit

This past week, I was painfully reminded about just how fragile life could be.

About half of my overall class and I were in the middle of our Health Systems & Policy (HSP) class early Monday afternoon. The other half of my overall class were in the Medicine and Patients in Society class (MAPS) at the same time. I had just come from a Kaplan lunch talk not too long before, where a representative was talking about how great the Kaplan Question Bank was in preparing students for Step 1. My thoughts were drifting back and forth between how I was going to use the Kaplan Question Bank to supplement my ongoing studies, how to make sure that I had the best fantasy football team in the class draft that I had just been invited to, and the financing & distribution of Medicaid in North Carolina, which is what we were currently being lectured to about. It was your typical, sunny Monday afternoon.

Then around 1:30 PM or so, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs opened the door of the classroom as the professor was in mid-sentence and motioned for him to come over to her with her finger. Puzzled, he looked at her for a couple of seconds and exited the classroom with her. All of us in the class were quiet for a few seconds, and then indistinct chatter started to fill the room. My friend and I started joking around about what the professor must have been thinking as the Associate Dean, of all people, abruptly interrupted his class. After about a couple of minutes, the professor walked back in looking pretty shocked, along with the Associate Dean and about five other faculty members. I suddenly did not like the look of what was happening. I heard my friend behind me whispering “Oh no, this doesn’t look good. This looks like bad news. This is going to be bad.” The Associate Dean got to the podium as the other faculty stood in line facing us and started to break the devastating news that our classmate, and my friend, Tori McLean, had just passed away due to complications from the bone marrow transplant that was supposed to have saved her from her diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. As she said Tori’s name, my jaw dropped. I could hear gasps around the room. As the dean continued to speak, I began to hear my classmates sobbing across the room. A couple of my friends I was sitting at my table with began to sob as well. I was completely dumbfounded. My jaw just hung open for what felt like an eternity as I stared in disbelief at the dean. I don’t even remember most of what was said after hearing the initial news. Just before she finished speaking, she said we were free to take the afternoon off to collect our thoughts and to mourn. I then sat back in my chair and numbly stared at the ground. I had just entered one hell of a daze. I must have sat there like that for about five minutes or so as others around me packed up their belongings and left the room. I then somehow managed to get up, walk out of the classroom, and walk back to my apartment complex where I met up with a few friends in their apartment. I walked in the apartment, set my bag down on the floor, sunk in the couch, looked up at the ceiling and proceeded to stare blankly at it for almost an hour.

As I type this post almost a week later, I still find it hard to believe that she’s really passed on. Like, I’ll never see her on this Earth again. It’s an unreal feeling. I keep thinking about how her closest friends and her family must be taking the gravity of her loss. That thought alone saddens me. The fact that she won’t ever get the chance to become the incredible doctor that she had the potential to be, or to start her very own family, or to just continue with life in general as a 24-year old woman is very difficult to accept. She had been fighting so hard against this cancer that she has been diagnosed with since mid-March, right as we were about to take our first Neuroscience exam. It was so unfortunate, but we all figured, including her, that it was a terrible phase that she would get through before returning to her regular life. It’s terribly unfair that her life on Earth had to end this way, because she was such a great person…she went out of her way to make others feel better, even while she was fighting against the cancer wearing on her body. While I was checking in on her this past summer, she told me that she truly believed that I was not only wise beyond my years, but that she was confident that I would grow into an amazing doctor, especially now that she’s experienced the patient side of things. She said all this after stating how much it meant to her that I was reaching out to check on her when she could only imagine how busy I was. Lol, that was just how she was man, so humbling and appreciative of everything. I had to tell her that I was never too busy to check in on her and that I had been praying for her and her family every day. She also told me that she still had been reading my blog every week throughout her treatment, which really moved me. As a matter of fact, Tori had been a huge supporter of Black Man, M.D. since day one. She was always “liking” my blog posts on Facebook and had told me several times in the past how much she enjoyed reading it as well as how appreciative she was of the quotes I put up every week. When I spotted her at the school back in early August after school had started up again, I tore myself apart from the group I had been chatting with, shouted her name, and gave her such a big hug that I may have lowkey scared her now that I think back on it. My last interaction with her was when she wished me a Happy Birthday a few weeks ago and had hoped that my day was just as wonderful as I was. Man, I’m gonna miss her.

This past week has been a rough one, with losing Tori and simultaneously having to study for our Cardiology exam that we’re taking tomorrow. However, the school has been absolutely wonderful in responding to the tragedy. In a matter of less than five days, many emails were sent to our class from various faculty members, including from the Dean of the Medical Center himself, the medical class under us worked to console us by providing us snacks and a memory tree for Tori where we can write & hang our memories with Tori from the tree, a memory book for Tori’s family was purchased, and a memorial was planned to honor Tori’s life. This memorial service took place this past Friday in an auditorium at the former medical center next to the hospital. I’m happy to say that the auditorium was packed to the brim and that the service was phenomenal. Her whole family was present as well as many of the faculty, our classmates, and others that either knew her personally or knew of her. There were songs sung & played on the violin/cello/piano, prayers given, stories shared by her friends and family, tears dropped, and laughs shared between the people present. It’s incredible to realize that even after her time in this world had ended, she was able to bring so many people from all walks of life together in one place. I felt, and continue to feel, honored to have been friends with such an angel who has touched the lives of many.

There were many organizations on campus that Tori was a part of, but one thing she was absolutely passionate about was Project Teach, a program within the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) here at Wake where we help to tutor both middle and high-school students from the community around us on Tuesday nights. We had both been very involved in this program last year, but it was very obvious to me how important the program was to her. Her love for the kids shined so bright that she was made the Community Service Co-Chair alongside me so that she would have full control of how the program was run. Sadly, soon after obtaining that position, she received her diagnosis. She then reached out to me a couple of weeks after her diagnosis and asked for the “big favor” of temporarily assuming control over the program as she began to fight off the cancer threatening her life. Of course I obliged and began to do so alongside another friend who was also invested in the program who also happened to be the new Vice-President of SNMA. Her and Tori had been working to expand the program to high-school students in the community, for at that time only middle-school students were coming for tutoring. When this school year started, my friend and I continued to work on expanding the program and eventually got a nearby high school on board to participate. This past Tuesday was the very first day of Project Teach for the year and I’m happy to say that it was a phenomenal success! We had about 25-30 volunteers and just as many middle & high school students show up. And the number of students is expected to increase for this Tuesday as well! I really wish Tori was able to have seen how well the first day went and how much bigger the program is going to get this year. But I know she’s watching from high up above and smiling down proudly on all of us.

Life can be very rewarding and at times you may feel invincible. But life can also be just as fragile, for one moment you’re on top of the world and in the very next moment you can be on the ground suffering. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this unfortunate event and from medical school in general, it’s that nobody is invincible. Disease & Tragedy can strike any one of us at anytime, even if we mean well and do our best to stay healthy. However, as the late and great Maya Angelou once said, “people will never forget how you made them feel”. I’m sure that just about everyone who has been touched by Tori’s presence can comfortably say that they will never forget how she made them feel, and that although she’s physically gone, her spirit will continue to live on in them forever. Her spirit will surely continue to live on in me. We all only have one life to live, so let’s shape our lives the way we want to shape them. Believe it or not, we have the power to do so. And while we work on shaping it, let’s find a way to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. It can be as big as funding a full scholarship for somebody or as simple as genuinely telling someone that they are beautiful. Even something as small as giving someone a smile can do wonders for another person. You just never know.

Victoria “Tori” McLean

January 6, 1992 – September 12, 2016

May your phenomenal soul rest in eternal peace.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

– Black Man, M.D.

Therapy & Service.

Well, it’s one of those weeks again. I have two tests coming up: one on Tuesday that covers Viruses, Fungi, Autoimmunity, Hypersensitivity & Parasites and a cumulative final on Friday that covers everything from Biochemistry to what I just finished learning now. So that means everything I’ve learned since I finished Anatomy back in November.

Needless to say, I’ve been forced to excessively grind in my studies for the past week. And I’ll be continuing to grind for the next couple days. If I can at least do just as good as I did last test, I’ll be perfectly happy. As for the final, well…we’ll see what happens. After this week though, I’ve got a couple weeks off until my next big block of material, which will be Neuroscience. I don’t really even know what to expect going into that block…but I’ve decided not to think about it until the end of my Spring Break. 😊

While I was studying for this upcoming test, I came across a concept that I thought was cool as hell. I’m gonna warn you though, I’m about to sound like a straight-up nerd. But anyway while I was learning about therapies for tumors, I came across this technology that has the potential to become revolutionary when it comes to cancer treatment. This new approach, Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy, literally takes your immune cells and makes them attack tumor cells in your body. How, you may ask? Well, your T-cells (one of the fighters in your immune system) are first collected from your blood and then engineered to produce unique receptors on their surface (CARs) that allows the T-cell to bind to whatever antigen or protein that we want it to bind to. After letting them multiply excessively in a lab, the CAR T-cells are returned to you and continue to multiply in your body while recognizing and killing cancer cells that have the antigens that match the CAR on your T-cell. So to put it simply, tumor cells have some things that normal cells don’t have. So after being trained to look for these little differences, your fighter cells go and kill these tumor cells without hurting any of your normal cells. Isn’t that incredible? I think it is! The whole treatment is still in its early days and is being tested in clinical trials, but results so far have looked promising for those people that didn’t respond well to chemotherapy and don’t have any other choices. Side effects are being studied as well and have been managed so far with steroids. Scientists have said that more research is needed before it can become an option to the general public, but what they’ve seen so far is promising. With time, the therapy can only improve and hopefully eventually expand to treat all types of cancer. For any of you that have been officially mind-blown and are interested in learning more about this therapy, here’s a link describing it in better detail:

http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/research/car-t-cells

Turn up for cancer research!

On another note, I’ve officially started volunteering for the Ronald McDonald House. You know, I used to see them around here and there growing up, but I never knew what they were. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know what the purpose of the house was until only a couple of months ago. If you don’t already know, the RMH serves as a home away from home for those out-of-town families that have children that are staying in the hospital for an extended period of time. The house provides food, shelter, and community bonding between families that find themselves housed there while keeping the families close to their loved ones in the hospital. Here at Wake’s hospital, there is a RMH Family Room on the pediatrics floor where family members can stop by and grab snacks or coffee, and just rest for a while. That’s where I’ve been placed and I had my first day last Friday. I saw first-hand how appreciative the parents of the sick children were of me being there that morning, for if there isn’t a volunteer available for any given 3-hour shift, the room is closed for that time period. I’m just happy that I can be of useful service to a population of people that are going through a tough time, and am grateful that I am able to interact with families in a perspective different from the one I will be trained to have when I become an actual doctor. I’m hoping that this experience will help influence the way I think about patients and their families in the future so that I can become that much more caring as a doctor.

That’s it for today! I’ll leave you with this:

No matter how bad you may think you have it, someone else in the world has it WORSE than you. Remember that.

Have a splendid week! And Happy Valentine’s Day! Special s/o to my valentine 😉.

 

– Black Man, M.D.

P.S. S/o to the First Couple!

http://ellentube.com/videos/0_wh2ip495