Leaving the Battlefield

Here, 38,000 fought and were wounded.  9,000 lost their lives. Widows made, children orphaned, lives changed forever. Here great victories were won, courage was shown, suffering and loss shared. Here warriors, great and small, stood against dread horror.  Not a far place recalled in historic fog, like Gettysburg, Omaha or Khe Sanh.  Not a grand edifice. No, just a simple building, a quick drive, just around the next corner; but it was the front lines in the war against cancer.

Today, we leave the office in which I have worked for 27 years.  It is a triumph for patients.  Bigger, better, brighter quarters wait, only a few minutes away.  A clean, modern new space, where we will slay the beast.  A great move, to be sure. Still, after all that time, all that strife and all that conflict, I am sad and I recall.

An empty office is not a curated park, with signposts, statue, or gardens of chipped granite headstones, tucked in a knoll.  There are no guides to tell stories of bravery or cowardice, no sunken lanes with soldier’s names and no proud history to carry on their tale.   The sacred place is marked by paper scattered on linoleum floors where the shadowed imprint of phantom exam tables marks the spot of combat.  An empty syringe box, old PDR, and a spilled pile of vacant patient files, replaced by the electronic age.  Only silence, worn carpet and half-open doors, show the path of doctors, families and the stricken.  A battleground without monument.

I remember them.  The old, the young, the rich and the poor.  Thousands of frightened men and women, who whether or not brave, did their best to fight, heal and survive.  My dreams are filled with disease and pain, treatment and test, victory and defeat. People that were kind and those that were cruel.  Families that pulled together and those that ran apart.  In success or failure, we cried and laughed, pain soothed by love and legacy.  Images, of this hallowed place in cancer’s war, burn my soul.

Closing the door behind me, the last time, some of me dies.  I hope the ghosts and the living, will forgive me for leaving.  Time moves on, even buildings return to dust.  The things of our lives cannot be saved.  However, the memories of the people with whom we were rode into battle, stay with us, forever.  These are the fabric of who we are and who we always will be.  They are the past on which we build tomorrow. We will never forget.


  • Linda DeLia
    A haunting and elegant tribute to an important marker in a cruel, ongoing war. Thank you from a 13-year survivor of NHL.
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Thank you very much. jcs
  • Although I am not a great fan of the battle metaphor, moving post and a reminder how our memories bind us together.
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Much appreciated. jcs
  • Mary
    Asone who spent as many years building new space for many like you, I find your post an interesting perspective. I've had countless hours with doctors designing their spaces to fit them before my own illness sidelined me from my "great"work. Demolishing the old buildings always had a poignancy to it - at least right before the heavy equipment arrived!
    • James Salwitz, MD
      The eventual loss of what we build reminds me every day of the importance of, well, every day. jcs
  • Kim
    Beautifully written and very moving...and an insight into your world and the worlds of so many other people battling this terrible disease and their physicians. Personally, I think the battleground metaphor is apt.
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Thank you very much, jcs
  • Eileen Burns McNally, RN
    Eloquent...and very fitting...There is a sadness but a joy when you look back..you have affected people more than you could possibly know..be proud of yourself..
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Thank you very much. It is for me an honor. jcs
  • carolyn esposito
    You are such a talented writer...thank you for sharing.
  • This was a beautiful piece. I can't say I will miss that very depressing building. I would note the litter of cigarette packages outside and think of the irony. Yet it was my first experience with the kind and thorough Dr. N. Today, I received word that a friend who was a fellow breast cancer survivor is in the hospital with a recurrence. And I remembered your saying the most likely place for breast cancer to return is the bone, which is is the case for her. I also heard she is now being treated by your group. I pray she is one of the battle survivors. Fortunately, you are just losing a building (and gaining a new one) and not the talented staff within.
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Great point ... it is after all the staff that gives vitality and healing to a place. jcs

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