Ward Hernandez gets a hand from Dr. David Squires, literally, as Dr. Squires helps him lean forward in the bed at University Hospital and then slips a stethoscope around to his back.
"OK, lungs sound good," Dr. Squires says with a quick smile.
There is an almost tangible bond between lymphoma patient Mr. Hernandez and his oncologist.
"They have a lot in common," said Mr. Hernandez's fiancee, Dorothy Glisson. They have both faced cancer.
It was a fluke that Dr. Squires ended up diagnosing his own acute lymphoblastic leukemia six months before he entered medical school. He was in a histology class at Brigham Young University, and the assignment called for students to examine their own blood with a microscope.
"I noticed that I was anemic and had an abnormally high number of lymphocytes (white blood cells) in my peripheral count," Dr. Squires said.
As luck would have it, the next day he was grading papers for another class, and one dealt with leukemia. When he looked it up, the pieces fell into place.
A week later, he was starting chemotherapy, which would last for three years. Despite that, he graduated as valedictorian of his undergraduate class and would later be inducted into a medical honor society. When it came time to choose a specialty, he was naturally interested in cancer and would eventually land a three-year fellowship at the National Cancer Institute.
As the fellowship was coming to an end last year, however, he decided not to continue his work with clinical trials. Instead, he wanted to see patients full time. He joined Augusta Oncology Associates in August.
"Many people can be in academics and do a fine job. What I really have to offer people is the experience I had," he said.
The cancer shaped not only his communication with patients but also his view of life and his ability to share that with them. The key is coping with what he calls "the tentativeness of cancer."
"This is part of life," he said. "Everyone is living tentatively. Most people just don't realize it until they get some kind of acute, life-threatening illness."
Faith has a lot to do with that, he said.
"I spend time with them and their families and find out what kind of support they have," he said. "And our discussions inevitably turn to God."
Dr. Squires can even see a positive in the cancer that invaded his body. His original goal was to become a surgeon.
"I actually think it is somewhat of a blessing," he said, "because I don't think I would have enjoyed surgery as much as I enjoy oncology."
DR. DAVID R. SQUIRES
FAMILY: Wife, Amie; sons Samuel and Luke; daughter Kathleen
EDUCATION: Brigham Young University, University of Utah Medical School, internal medicine residency at Utah, fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, master's degree in health sciences at Duke University
OCCUPATION: Oncologist at Augusta Oncology Associates
QUOTE: "Everyone is living tentatively. Most people just don't realize it until they get some kind of acute, life-threatening illness."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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