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The New England Journal of MedicineThe Maternal Crossroad

Balancing Professional and Personal Roles: A Gynecologic Oncologist’s Journey Through Motherhood and Loss

In a poignant personal essay published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Larissa H. Mattei, a gynecologic oncology fellow, shares her experience navigating the complex intersection of her professional and personal lives. Dr. Mattei’s account offers a raw and intimate look at the challenges faced by healthcare professionals who find themselves on both sides of a cancer diagnosis, providing valuable insights into the emotional toll and practical implications of such experiences.

Key Points:

  • The author comes from a family of “impatient women,” a trait that has contributed to her professional success but also caused personal challenges
  • Dr. Mattei’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during the author’s final year of residency
  • The author provides care for ovarian cancer patients while simultaneously supporting her mother through treatment
  • The essay explores the difficulty of maintaining professional objectivity when personally affected by a patient’s condition
  • Dr. Mattei discusses the challenge of balancing optimism and pragmatism when counseling patients about their prognosis
  • The author reflects on the impact of cancer diagnoses on women in their 50s and 60s, often occurring when they are finally ready to focus on themselves
  • The essay highlights the struggle of balancing roles as a physician, new mother, daughter, and wife
  • Dr. Mattei shares her mother’s perspective on motherhood: “I wish someone had told me you can’t have it all”
  • The author’s mother passed away from ovarian cancer, along with an estimated 12,800 women in 2022
  • The essay emphasizes the loss of intergenerational knowledge and experience that occurs with each cancer death
  • Dr. Mattei reflects on the duality of victory and tragedy in gynecologic oncology, now experienced both professionally and personally

“I feel as if I have since come as close as one can to experiencing ovarian cancer without actually having it myself. I am intimately familiar with the simultaneous urgency and inertia that fuel every moment after someone receives a cancer diagnosis.”

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