Humans in Healthcare #34 | An update on Sam Gomolka's journey

from physician assistant to cancer patient

Hi friend, Amy here, your authentically honest full-stop human, community builder, and creator of Humans in Healthcare, sharing the stories and experiences of healthcare professionals, patients, and caregivers. Are you a clinician who is seeking community, creativity, and humanity? Consider joining the community filled with diverse clinicians who are showing up for themselves and others. It’s turning out to be a magical experience!

Last week, a guest post by Dana Strauss shared about value-based care 2.0. Dana is hard at work drafting out part two in the series: how to show value to patients, providers, and payers, set to hit your inbox next week.

In the meantime, I am inviting you to a dose of humanity by giving you an update on a previous contributor to this newsletter, Samantha Gomolka. If you recall, Sam is a physician assistant who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year at the age of 42. She vulnerably shared her journey here in chapter 16: from physician assistant to cancer patient.

I am happy to report that Sam has since completed all 6 rounds of chemotherapy and an elective double mastectomy due to being BRCA2 positive. She will be undergoing her final breast reconstruction in about 4 weeks.

I’ve always admired Sam’s vulnerability in documenting her journey through her unique lens of being both a physician assistant and patient. Today, I want to leave you with an update in her words that weave together and honor her dual identities as a healthcare professional and patient.

✍️ Sam writes:

Beyoncé has her posse, and now I have mine……

Another doctor’s appointment today, and to be honest, I have been averaging 2-3 appointments per week since last May.

Before my own diagnosis, I would review the past medical history of patients coming in, mentally acknowledge any diseases, and think that once done with treatment, cancer really did belong in the Past Medical History section of the chart.

Oh humble pie, it tastes awful.

As advised yesterday, these next two years are when my risk of recurrence is at the highest, so my follow-ups are short-term to make sure we can catch anything in the early stages, but there is a whole team that is keeping me safe, nursing me back to health, and generally making sure that I avoid disaster.

Who are these angels?

  • Rockstar oncologist

  • PMD

  • Pancreatic specialist

  • Breast surgeon

  • Plastic surgeon

  • Hormone Specialist

  • Dermatologist

  • Ophthalmologist

  • Dentist (I haven’t had a cavity in 35 years, but found out at my cleaning a couple of weeks ago that I had two small ones….thank you chemo)

So, in the past 9 months, it feels that I have gone from a healthcare professional to a professional patient. Some of the specialists I see weekly, others I see every couple of months. It’s been a busy time. Add bloodwork, imaging, and other tests that they order and my week fills quickly.

The week before my diagnosis I thought I pulled a hamstring from kayaking. I was slamming Motrin and walking around my office thinking my leg pain would get better, and would eventually go away. I never even thought to make an appointment with my doctor, partly because I didn’t want to cancel my patients. I know that they arranged babysitters or took time off work for their appointments with me.

It is not lost on me that the leg pain was actually two blood clots in my leg, and could have killed me way faster than the huge tumor in my abdomen. I was, and still am so very lucky.

So, now I go to the doctor. All the time. And I make sure that I don’t fall into the knucklehead category of ignoring my health while instructing people on how to achieve theirs.

Fear of recurrence is real and lives in the back (ok, sometimes the front too) of my mind. While I’m past the “hard” part, this is not over. Every pain, twinge, or weird thing stops my heart for a second to think is it back?

I’m not depressed, or sad — I’m actually quite happy, and feel that I have come a long way on my healing journey. Acknowledging that I still think about the disease can be a blessing in some ways. It keeps me sharp on what is important to me now and prevents the facade of mundane life lulling me back to complacency. I’m striving to find the magic each day — whether it’s walking in the woods, or starting a new book club for Gracie — I have committed to make each day special.

I read that Toby Keith passed away while I was scrolling this morning. He had millions of fans but left this world surrounded by family and friends. Those were his people. I have tried to be intentional about focusing my attention on my people, mostly Mike and the kids. It’s so good for the soul.

I will never forget that each day here is a bonus day. One more day that each of us was never promised.

So I challenge you — how do you find the magic in each day? And are you loving YOUR people as you should? Live. Really live and love.

Thank you Sam for the poignant reminder — that while we do our best to show up for our patients, we also need to recognize our own humanity and right to care for our own needs while we care for others as well. Not either, or. Both, and.

Let this be a reminder today to get that check-up, schedule that screening, follow up on that nagging feeling, and honor your needs. Care for yourself so that you can care for others. 💜 

In humanity,


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