Dr. Larry Puls// Gynecologic Oncologist// husband// father// grandfather// guitarist// potter// author
What drew me to cancer work is that you really get to walk a journey with people. You’re in it for the long haul. We do both surgical aspects and chemotherapeutic aspects. That allows us to stay fully engaged the entire time from start to finish, which is wonderful. You really get to know these people, their family, their fears and successes. I didn’t know all the emotional heartache that would come with it when I first signed up for the job, but I quickly learned that.
Cancer is the place no one wants to be, and yet that experience can teach you things about yourself. My wife got breast cancer and taught me this from her own journey. “Don’t waste your cancer” – a quote from John Piper. There are positive things that can come from a cancer. It gives you perspective to realize that you’re in the hands of God. You don’t know what is going to happen and you’ve got to take this step of faith. It gives you the opportunity to engage in conversations you might have wanted to have. Sometimes people get so involved in that word, cancer, that they can’t see anything else around them. Families get driven apart because the patient becomes so self-absorbed that they then alienate everybody else in their life.
I would never say that as oncologists we suffer more than anyone else, but we do witness and endure more deaths than anyone can imagine. You’ve known this person now for 10 years and you’ve seen them 400 times in the office; you’ve laughed with them, joked with them, been to social gatherings. They’re not just a patient. You know their family, their dreams. And then they die. A part of you dies with them.
That’s hard. It tears at you every time. It keeps you very humble. You realize that but for the grace of God, there go I. You’ve got the opportunity to help in the best way that you can. If you can give the gift of a cure, that’s great. But if you can’t, you can still bring a gift to the table – to walk them through these days that are tough.
The biggest satisfaction is getting to walk that journey with somebody. Somebody’s putting their life in your hands. It’s an awesome responsibility. It’s an honor. My broken heart reminds me of the joy of life, the joy of other souls, though sometimes they come packaged with agonizing pain, carving out deep scars – but healthy and needed scars. They tell me that life is a gift and by the grace of God, I am allowed to savor that gift.
Interview by Deborah Spear / Photography by Patrick Cox