Remembrances: Dr. James Waisman

I am Doctor Jim Waisman. I was privileged to be Mary’s medical oncologist for 13 years.

I am very grateful to have been invited to speak. Actually I have quite a bit to say.

To say Mary, Steve and I spent “quality time” together is sort of like saying that Mary thought New Orleans was a nice town. I won’t do justice to the hours in my office… but I did turn to Alfred North Whitehead because it was clear to me that somehow Mary’s breast cancer moved her towards Whitehead.

I looked for what had compelled Mary – where was the breast cancer connection? He said: “We think in generalities, we live in detail”. Mary was one of the brightest people that I ever knew – she certainly could have waxed eloquently about existential truths; life’s meaning, etc.

But she chose to focus on detail: Humorous notes, movies, food, her trips, her German, her hair, her tumor markers, her websites – life with Mary was always engaged in the center of daily life.

And… it isn’t easy to do with the haunting presence of metastatic breast cancer.

So, out of my desire to bear witness to what it is to live in the detail of breast cancer, I will speak to it as Mary and Steve lived, walked their dogs, ate their meals, traveled the world – lived inside life.

There was, of course, the detail of the breast cancer and from those details, for me, come my chance to honor the life and spirit of this good and great person.

Mary taught me about living IN life and WITH life.

And then the “detail” of life and breast cancer is always portrayed in the media as a “generality:. When you think about your daily life routine, think about adding the following:

  • 13 years since first diagnosis of breast cancer
  • 9 years since metastatic cancer to the liver where the average life expectancy is 18 months
  • 7 relapses, 7 remissions
  • 10 different chemotherapy regimens lasting several weeks to many months
  • 47 different CT scan visits
  • 87 chemotherapy visits
  • 118 lab blood draws
  • 207 appointments with me
  • A lot of time waiting anxiously for tests, waiting anxiously for test results – sometimes with hair, often, without it.

I know just a little about Mary’s day to day life. Steve knows so much more. Steve can teach so much about the word HUSBAND, the word SUPPORT

In the end, I thanked Mary for letting me be her physician on this journey – she didn’t like the words journey or struggle – so when I asked her what would best describe her feelings she said, “TRIBULATION”.

She grasped the detail. She lived it – Bravely.

So Mary, forgive this generality… You were a wonderful teacher and an extraordinary human being. I was honored to be your doctor.