An Open Letter to My Friend at the James

Dear A.J.,


The time you spent coordinating with my mother-in-law was helpful; the time you spent reassuring my father was considerate; and the time you spent talking me was invaluable.

On Thursday of last week, I was diagnosed with cancer. I've never been sick. I have no idea what protocol looks like. All I know is I'm terrified and want so badly to wake up from this awful dream. Every phone call from nurses and doctors to date has required an immense amount of focus and discernment. I'm skeptical of what they say and unsure of my ability to comprehend. It has been hard to feel insecure about whether I'm asking the right questions or focusing on the right information or understanding what people are telling me about my body.

I'm so fortunate to have connections who rallied to get me an appointment at The James Comprehensive Cancer Center with specialists of my new inhabitant. My mother-in-law (affectionately called MILLY) contacted you and you dutifully took my information and passed reports and records along to your doctors. But when things moved so quickly, I felt my insecurity creeping back. Am I seeing the right person? Is the timing right for this? How can I know this is worth our efforts?

In a panic, I called my dad. He picked up the phone and dialed your number. Within an hour, I got a text from him telling me he was confident we were moving in the right direction:


"I am VERY confident this is the right thing to do. I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it.  Will fill you in at your convenience. I love you more than you can even understand."

My impression of medical professionals so far is this: they all have important jobs. There are so many people they need to help and only so many hours in a day. They are constantly towing the line between efficiency and compassion. I would guess that for most of your peers, a 45-minute phone call to a potential patient's father would be exceptional. And then you agreed to call me on your way home from what I can only imagine was a long, exhausting day.

At 7:30 pm my phone rang and you apologized to me for getting caught up at work. We joked about the arduous name-change process (by the way, I'm sorry I didn't think to congratulate you on your recent marriage). I felt like I was meeting a friend.

You spent another half hour explaining the benefits of The James and telling me about the capable doctor with whom I would meet. You assuaged my concerns about logistics and gave me hope that there were options for someone living in Virginia and seeking medical advice from a team in Ohio. Before we hung up, you told me you were praying for me and my family.

I have no idea whether my appointment on Monday will be fruitful or whether I will hear more news that makes my stomach sink. But I truly feel, if for no other reason, I was put in contact with The James Comprehensive Cancer Center so I could talk to you. 

Our conversation was the first time since I received the results of my initial CT scan that I have felt validated and confident.  I'm sure I will continue to meet many more medical professionals who put compassion at the forefront throughout my cancer journey. I'm hopeful because of you. Our interaction could not have been more well-timed. The James is lucky to have you, and more importantly, patients of The James are lucky to have you. 

Thank you for calling.

In Love,

Abi