I’ve had many first-year students ask what I did during the summer between OMS I and OMS II. Some of my classmates traveled the world, some did research, a few went back to their before-med-school jobs to earn a little cash, and others started board prep.
My friend Katia Cnop, OMS III, traveled to Tecpán, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, to conduct research on rural women’s healthcare with the nonprofit Maya Health Alliance.
Chris Kim, OMS III, arranged a research project with emergency medicine physicians in California, investigating the cultural motivations behind illicit drug use.
John Childers, OMS III, returned home to Brighton, Michigan, and resumed his old job taking care of livestock and doing daily chores on a farm.
Different plans than most
My summer plans were a little different than most. I had risk-reducing surgery because I’m BRCA 1 positive.
I found out that I had the BRCA mutation just two months after my mom passed away from Stage IIIc ovarian cancer. My gynecologist explained that I qualified for genetic testing to detect familial cancer. My mom’s cancer was BRCA negative; it had been spontaneous.
I still agreed to do the testing, despite assuming that I was negative just like my mom. At the time, I didn’t know the correlation between BRCA and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, which I have from my dad.
In 2017, I started my summer with a breast reduction surgery to improve my chances of a successful nipple-sparing mastectomy. I woke up from the surgery with the worst pain of my life. The first two weeks, I walked with stiff arms not touching my chest or sides, like a bodybuilder whose biceps are too big for their torso. The next two months were spent resting, healing, and mentally preparing for the next big surgery.
It was planned as an eight-hour surgery that would require four to five days in the hospital, four drains, and no lifting for eight weeks. In my mind, the pain and recovery were worth the 80% reduction in my lifetime risk of breast cancer.
A 20-hour surgery
In August, I underwent a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction. I remember waking up while being transferred into my hospital bed, facing windows with bright sun streaming through and the clock on the wall reading 7 o’clock. The nurse told me the surgery took longer than expected.
When my doctor finally came to the room, he explained that he harvested the deep inferior epigastric perforator artery on the right side without a problem. However, the left-sided artery was more tortuous than what was shown on my abdominal CTA. He meticulously separated and harvested the vessels, completing my surgery 20 hours later.
When he removed my dressing and inspected my incisions, I noticed that the edges of my skin were eschar. Two weeks later, my abdominal wound had dehisced, and my doctor took me back for an I&D. Ultimately, I returned to school two weeks after classes started, catching up on missed coursework with the help of faculty and classmates.
A final extended break
As summer break approaches, I want other students to know that it is perfectly okay to do something personal with your time off. For most, this is one of the last opportunities to have an extended break without classes or rotations.
Not only did I take advantage of that time for recovery, but I also got a dog, Milo, and trained him. Taking him for walks helped motivate me to get out of bed and overcome the pain. As soon as I was cleared for exercise, I took him to agility training.
Being able to run again felt like a huge achievement. Sometimes, it’s the small things in life.