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The Art of Medicine

Hidden superpower

McGuirt, Jon MMS, PA-C

Author Information
Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants: May 2019 - Volume 32 - Issue 5 - p 66
doi: 10.1097/01.JAA.0000554753.64085.98
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Patient: JS

Age: 28 years

Diagnosis: Germinal-center B-cell (GCB) type diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)

Treatment: R-CHOP-21

After graduating from PA school last year, I accepted a position in a hospital-based community hematology/oncology practice. I work with a hematologist 1 day each week. We see the gamut from benign heme consults to aggressive hematologic malignancies. One of our more memorable patients was a young gentleman with GCB type DLBCL and a penchant for comic books and superheroes. At least, that is what his T-shirt selection suggested. A large part of taking care of oncology patients as a PA centers on getting them through chemotherapy. Many visits focus on toxicity assessment and symptom management. JS always described his adverse reactions with a comic-book flourish: “WHAM! The nausea hit me on the second day.” “That last cycle of chemo was like BAM! I mean, WHOA!”

As I reflect on listening to this young man who peppers his descriptions with such distinctive interjections, I am reminded of one of the first artists that I ever really delved into. Roy Lichtenstein's art is so interesting to me because of how approachable it is. I was a teenager who knew nothing about concept or form (do I now?), but Crying Girl, Whaam! and the like were some of the first paintings I knew by name. Those Ben-Day dots made me feel comfortable with the painting even if the subject matter was unsettling. Like looking at Lichtenstein's art through the years and starting to appreciate his delightfully subversive use of popular culture, the more visits I had with JS, the more complex the case became. A young husband, a new father, a life-changing diagnosis. He was embracing his youth wholeheartedly because it protected him from his illness. Cancer is what your neighbor's grandmother has, not something you get in your 20s after you find a painless lump on your neck. I suspect that by invoking his youth (and maybe a hidden superpower or two), JS wasn't going to let a few cycles of chemo rob him of life. R-CHOP!

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