Friday, March 18, 2016

A Young Med Student Puts Her Studies on Hold to Care for Her Mother

Hannah Roberts was in her fourth year of medical school when her mother, Karla Johnson, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Hannah took a year off to care for her mother. An AARP article about "millennial caregivers" said

Hannah Roberts, 28, has often logged in to CancerCare's support group since her mother, Karla Johnson, 62, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer last spring. "I don't think many people in my age group have experienced anything like this, so that can be isolating," she says. "It's hard to see them on Facebook going on with normal lives."

She has taken a year's leave after her third year at Columbia University Medical School, moving from New York into her parents' home in the Boston suburbs to care for Johnson. She drives her mother to medical appointments, organizes nursing visits and helps prepare meals, while her dad has taken on more tasks at the architectural firm the couple founded.

Another difficult part of her caregiving role, she says, "is not worrying about the professional and personal goals that I've put on hold." But because patients diagnosed with this particularly aggressive form of cancer typically have months, not years, to live, she adds, "I'm trying to be really in the moment with my mom."

Roberts is also working on a cancer research project at the Boston hospital where Johnson goes for chemotherapy treatments, and is aware of the coincidence of her specialty — radiation oncology — a field she chose two weeks before her mom's diagnosis. "It's been quite surreal," she says.

If there's any good to come out of this experience, Roberts says that as a physician she'll be more attuned to the needs of her patients' caregivers, and understand that the challenge "is definitely emotional, but it's also logistical — just everyday tasks that have to be done, and putting yourself second."

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