Megan Johnson and Martin Brecher

On the Other End of the Stethoscope

Pictured: Medical student and former pediatric patient Megan Johnson spent a day shadowing Dr. Martin Brecher, the oncologist who saved her life more than 20 years prior, during her 2014 summer research apprenticeship.

Reflections of a Former Pediatric Patient Turned Medical Student

More than 20 years ago, Megan Johnson was fighting for her life as a pediatric patient at Roswell Park. Given just a 10 percent chance of survival, Megan defied the odds and is now well on her way to a career in medicine. She reflects below on a particularly memorable day of her summer research apprenticeship, when she was able to shadow the very doctor who she credits with saving her life.

I woke up that Wednesday feeling excited and a little anxious. I was about to accompany Dr. Martin Brecher on his rounds in the pediatric oncology ward. Twenty-two years before, Dr. Brecher had saved my life when I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer called a PNET (primitive neuroectodermal tumor). I had survived the 10 percent odds and gone on to complete my first year of medical school. Now I was back at Roswell Park as a summer research apprentice, studying mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance in acute myeloid leukemia. Today, though, I was going to shadow my oncologist.

Morning rounds began in a small office in 6 North, where Dr. Brecher and his colleagues started by discussing the three children currently receiving in-patient treatment. The doctors went over each patient's history before jumping into the latest lab results. Were his elevated liver enzymes the result of medications or of graft vs. host disease? Was her kidney function good enough to continue high-dose chemotherapy? The issues were complex but fascinating.

Then we saw the patients. One little boy was dwarfed by his hospital bed. He watched The Lego Movie while his mother voiced her concerns, and I thought of how my own mom had acted as my advocate. Each of the families we saw were incredibly devoted to each other, and Dr. Brecher was exceptional with them. What made him such a great doctor was not only his intelligence and skill, but also his concern for the patients and their families. I went back to lab that day with a new appreciation for the work that goes into treating a child who has cancer. I hope that I will provide the same care to my patients.