Patient runs after doctor as they vanish

Getting a New Doctor Can Set You on Edge

When I relapsed three-and-a-half years after my autologous transplant, I was surprised – well, actually dismayed – to learn that I would get a new doctor for my upcoming allogeneic transplant.

As a layperson, I had no idea that doctors need a different cache of knowledge to supervise allogenic transplants. The news was hard to digest. I felt comforted by my doctor’s firm handshake and the hearty laugh that signaled his walk down the hall to my door. Sure, Dan could be moody, but I had gotten used to it. He was (and is) a big Italian guy exuding warmth and compassion.

My new doctor was calm and kind

My social worker at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute assured me that I would also love my new doctor, Ted. He had a subtle sense of humor that I would come to appreciate. He was more formal, with a Southerner’s gentility. While everyone called my first doctor by his first name, they mostly used my second doctor’s surname. Even after years of being treated by him, I could hardly ever call him Ted. He was Dr. Alyea.

We shared a love of playing and watching tennis. I always knew my counts were good when I walked into the exam room and he asked, “How’s your tennis game?” Sure enough, I grew to love him. I also became attached to his nurse practitioner, who I get to keep.

My kids’ sanity owes a lot to their confidence in Dana-Farber in general and specifically to Dr. Alyea. He was calm and kind when he explained the challenges to my family the night I was at death’s door, in a coma, after my fourth stem cell transplant. He said I had multiple life-threatening infections (including kidney failure) that they would tackle one at a time. As you can see, since I’m here writing this 11 years later, I pulled through.

"Thank you for saving my life!"

When I saw him at the end of this past November, he told me he was leaving to lead the Duke Cancer Institute. Once again, I experienced the shock of learning I would be separated from my doctor. I don’t remember everything I said. I’m pretty sure I congratulated him and told him it was hard. He said it was hard for him too. I know I said this: “Thank you for saving my life!”

I checked the Duke website to get his exact title – it’s chief medical officer – and sent the story about him to my kids. “I love Dr. Alyea,” my daughter wrote.

And now I have a third doctor who I haven’t even met. (I didn’t have appointments when Boston closed down in the height of the pandemic, and my first in-person after that was with my nurse practitioner.) I’m scheduled to finally meet him in a few days. When I told a friend the other day, she said, “Dr. Alyea is leaving????”

I said I was surprised she knew his name. That was silly of me to say. She was among the friends who know as much about my experience as my family. “Of course I do,” she said. “He saved your life like five times.” Well, it wasn’t five times. But once was enough.

My nurse practitioner assures me that my new doctor is fabulous too. His name is Vincent Ho, and he is director of clinical operations, stem cell transplantation, at Dana-Farber. If I judge by how attached I got to the other two, the same thing is likely to happen. I’m curious about whether I’ll call him Dr. Ho or Vincent.

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