What does a Doctor and Cancer have in common? How about being diagnosed with the very same cancer you treat?
On August 10, 2011, James (Jim) Caridi, a 60-year-old physician was diagnosed with bone cancer (multiple Myeloma). The ironic thing is he is a Professor and Chief of Interventional Radiology at the University of Tulane.
Dr. Caridi grew up in a very ethnic New York Italian American blue-collar family. He was one of few family members who attended college and became a professional. However getting into college wasn’t easy, Jim was not even granted an interview at 24 of the 25 medical schools to which he applied. The 25th application to the University of Florida was successful. He was accepted after making an impacting statement during his interview, “Would you rather accept an average guy who gives you 150% or a genius who settles for 50%?”
Dr. Caridi began his profession in private practice. During his tenure he thought he always maintained being a good patient advocate; having great bedside manners meant felling the patient’s pain, which can be overwhelming at times. Although the money was great in private practice, Jim chose to leave for academics. He managed 5 beautiful children of his own, and with his new busy schedule, he had very little time to spend and involve himself with patients. However, he never lost sight of humanity and would always try to treat others, as he wanted to be treated. Now internationally recognized in the field as one of the experts, Dr. Caridi receives invitations to lecture at the very same institutions that denied him an interview for medical school.
But his world tipped upside down in the summer of 2011. while he was teaching and learning in Italy, Jim developed severe neck and rib pain. Considering the pain as normal aches from exercising and aging, he didn’t think much of it until it became more severe. That moment caused alarm for consideration that something was terribly wrong. Upon returning to the states, August 10th, Dr. Caridi was in so much pain he had one of the Techs scan his neck. His last words before scanning were, “Just don’t tell me I have a big metastasis in my neck.” As he began to review the scan, his heart went into his stomach and he felt like life was being drained from his body. There before his eyes was his worst nightmare. Immediately he was sent to a Neurosurgeon due to the neck Instability. Although he was unlucky with the diagnosis, he realized how lucky he was to have not died in Italy from a severe neck fracture. After multiple tests, Jim discovered that he had lesions in his bones and this started the cascade for treatment for multiple myeloma.
Now experiencing cancer from the other side, Jim had suddenly been inducted in the club that no one wants to join. Basically, cancer patients live in a society within a society, everything for them is different. He equates them to the Mutants in the X-Men. In the beginning it was very much like being a lab rat. If lucky and remission was achieved, there were the constant meds and the nagging fear that every pain is a recurrence. He found that those surrounding him told him to take it easy and not to do much of his previous activities. What he discovered however, is that the more normal he acted, the more normal he began to feel, and that maintaining those activities were essential, even if tiring.
As a patient, and a concerned physician, Dr. Caridi can see how important interactions and attitudes of physicians and their extenders are. He thought he was a concerned physician; little did he know how patients felt from the other side. Cancer patients are scared and looking for every ray of hope. A nurse, PA or Doctor can make or break their day with their attitude or confidence. He also noted that there are mishaps. Many of them occurred because of the inundation with paperwork that had been forced upon the medical profession. It seems like the emphasis of medicine is now complying with the paperwork and disregarding the patient. The constant logging into the computer while speaking with the patient removes eye contact. His Mother taught him to “Read eyes” as patients speak their emotions. In many cases of medicine this is now replaced with a computer; what a loss.
As a physician, and now a patient, it has underscored both what is right and what is wrong with his profession. Dr. Caridi has taken care of many cancer patients, as well as, many terminally ill patients for a variety of other reasons. As part of his routine, he has performed many exams and procedures on patients that will never recover. It is done because of the patient’s family and treating physicians’ attitude that something must be done. This is a costly attitude he feels, “Many times we create a situation where the patient remains “alive” but their condition is miserable.” This can cost tens, to hundreds of thousands, of dollars. At the same time, he sits in the infusion room getting chemotherapy and listens to patients behind another curtain telling their doctor that they simply can’t afford the extra 5 dollars a month for a drug that may cure them or make them feel better!! This sickens Jim and causes him to feel helpless.
His months have been trying, but at the same time, an invaluable education. He has used his experience to try and educate some of his peers on a number of issues related to medicine and personal life. He has found that having a terminal illness is overshadowed by the paperwork involved, an attempt to stay alive and not be financially devastated. Jim cautions his friends that he has been lucky to be given time to get his paperwork in order and suggests they do the same, before an emergency. Dr. Caridi has also been fortunate in that his estranged 33-year-old son has come back to the planet and is assisting his recovery. At the same time, Jim is assisting his. He feels, “If I do OK it was worth the punch to get him back.”
Considering his position on both sides of the fence, as well as his personal beliefs, Jim thought it would be insightful to many to follow the intimate course of this treatment. It is also timely to get an inside look at both sides of medicine from a doctor and patient’s viewpoint. Dr. Caridi feels, “If we can achieve some impact on the care of even one person, it’s worth it.” This is what prompted him to launch the OneIAM Club. This club is where people facing this extreme challenge can come together, share experiences, discover new options and, most importantly, know that they are not alone. In other words, together we can make a difference!
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