August 2, 2018. The day I transformed from physician to patient.
I woke up feeling fine and did a spin class and a run before work. When I got to work, a nurse asked me a question, and realized that my speech was altered. I then had a short focal seizure and thought I was having a stroke. I did not fit the profile….low blood pressure, very fit, not overweight, no family history. I was transported to my local hospital and scans showed a brain tumor. I was shocked. I never had another symptom besides that seizure. Unfortunately, there is no profile for the typical brain tumor patient.
As a Yale trained pediatrician, I knew the importance of finding my way to a larger academic center. One thing I always prided myself in was finding the appropriate referral for my patients, which they greatly appreciated. As luck would have it, I was given the name of Dr. Jennifer Moliterno-Gunel, and after I vetted her on the internet, she was gracious enough to meet with me the next day to discuss my case and course of action. I loved the fact that she only did brain tumor surgery, as that made her a neurosurgical specialist rather than a neurosurgical generalist; this meant there would be no dilution of knowledge and technical ability. I was also impressed that Yale had specialized neuro anesthesiologists, neuro radiologists, intraoperative imaging, etc.
From the moment I met her, I knew no other opinion was necessary. She took her time with me, quickly assessed my personality and was willing to cater to it (It isn’t easy to work with a physician as a patient!). She was compassionate, humorous, did not rush me, and answered all of my questions in detail.
After a successful surgery and rapid recovery, I was placed into the expert care of Dr. Nicholas Blondin, a neuro oncologist (again, specialized so that there was no dilution of knowledge). He was also compassionate, caring and spent as much with me as needed. He is truly passionate about what he does, as is Dr. Moliterno-Gunel. He wanted to know my thoughts about my care and what was important to me. I truly feel we have a great collaborative relationship and he caters to my personality (again, it is hard to have a physician as a patient, and it is equally hard to be a patient when you are a physician and used to being in full control).
I am indebted to Yale as an institution; they have taken me full circle. I was the recipient of a tremendous medical education that led to a fulfilling 27 year career as a pediatrician. Most recently, as a patient, I have been a recipient of tremendous care from a spectacular team of caregivers and the technology that only a large academic medical center can provide. In the hopes that others can benefit from the care and services I have received, I am happy to start the Susan Beris, M.D Fund for the Yale Brain Tumor Program.
Unfortunately, my tumor was a Grade 4 Glioblastoma, which has a poor prognosis for survival. As I write this, I am recurrence free (and pretty much symptom free) for 13 months which is beating the odds. I credit this to a great surgeon/ surgical care, great post-op care, a great support system, and a vigorous exercise program. My motto is #BeATwinkie #LiveBeyondYourExpirationDate, which I have pretty much already accomplished.
Susan Beris M.D