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For the last decade, at this time of the year, I followed a holiday tradition of my own. A tradition that – somewhere, deep in my heart – I thought will make the world a better place. It didn’t feed the children or the elderly, neither with the poor nor the hungry (or maybe, in a way, it did?). It was just different in and of its own. It was my gift to the world, in my own way, the way I felt it was needed the most and I never spared any effort to do it right because it was my humble dime to the ones in need wherever they were!
As soon as the glimpse of cheer fades away the holiday dinner, I find myself most often on a kitchen counter or back at my office, away from the chatter and fun, in the front of dozens of stamped empty envelopes. They aren’t holiday cards’ envelopes. They’ll soon wrap precious letters. Letters that are carefully thought, soulfully written, and preciously sealed during the magic of holidays. Their seal bears two of my signatures and they are all – always! – sealed and mailed by myself alone. Each of them takes many hours to write and is, often times, emotionally draining as some recall a past that’s soon to become a legend – someone’s very special legend.
Each of these letters’ story is unique and each of them is as important to me as it is to the one receiving it. Most importantly, each of them is crucially important to the one person that inspired me to write it in the first place. Moreover, this isn’t only about the sender, the receiver, and the story within, but it may be one day about you or someone you love and care deeply about. These letters are all recommendation letters for the best and brightest of my students. By this point, they’ve proven to be not only unique, but inspired; not only thorough, but dedicated, tireless, and cautiously aggressive pursuing the best treatment option that you or your loved one may need.
Looking back, a learning experience with me in oncology was feared as hell. Some students would come visit for a week and then stay away from me until they graduated. Others, instead, came and never left until they graduated. A few of the latter even brought over their friends and roommates. The prospect of hard work was often the deterrent, but many times the attraction. With several long days and countless weekends pursuing shoulder to shoulder some of the craziest ideas – most of them theirs – about how to prolong survival and prevent metastasis, one had to be made for it in order to make it through it. There was one single requirement to stick around working in oncology: one had to be fully willing to never-never-never-ever give up.
Thinking back: each of them was a legend in his or her own way. Anywhere from ecstatically smart and hilariously funny to brilliantly intelligent and dangerously clever, they slowly and surely created my holiday tradition with every graduation we looked ahead at. The early spring of the graduation year was fully booked with fellowship and residency interviews. Pursuing one, two or three more years of training required lots of determination, but some clearly had what it took to do it! Writing about them was both a privilege and an accomplishment at the same time. I started teaching in academia having the one and only commitment: to ensure that my students will become better professionals than I was. Hence, it soon became my holiday tradition to carefully inspect how well I did, then recall how we got there and in what way – if any – this could work for one of the opportunities lying ahead of each of my students. I had, on average, fifteen to twenty students applying each for ten to twelve highly competitive next step training opportunities. Many recruiters reading my letters were to read my letters again in the coming years. I couldn’t copy-paste my letters and I didn’t want to anyway. If a candidate I recommended did not fulfill their expectations and requirements this could have compromised future candidates’ chances. It was a very responsibility-loaded process that drained much of my energy before the end of the year (every year!).
In all, 2017 is the most special as I am about to sit and write the very last letters of my very last professional students. Recalling so many years and recognizing that gear shift from “doubt” to “certainty of action” I feel a unique vibe. It’s very much like witnessing an airplane take-off while standing next to it on the runway. Their engines rumble and, for airplane connoisseurs, what follows next for a successful take-off is called an “attitude”. That is my favored part!
…and airborne they are, the very last ones I taught how to fly.
That’s all for tonight, my friends. I hope you enjoyed the story and, wherever you are, I hope your holidays are blessed and your souls feel loved!
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