A world-class oncologist was unprepared for the news that his own wife had been diagnosed with the life-threatening disease. Now, 15 years after treatment and cancer free, they wrote a book about their journey.
Dr. John Marshall is a top physician at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. His wife, Liza Marshall, is a lawyer and active in her community. Together, their world ended the day she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
“Before Liza’s, our experience with cancer, I really thought I was a great doctor. I thought I knew everything, ”said John. “But when I went through this, having now converted to a caregiver, to a consumer, I realized there was so much I wasn’t getting.”
John’s specialty is gastrointestinal cancer. He has long disliked the attention and research money for breast cancer at the expense of other cancer research.
After the diagnosis, John had to face that his wife could have died without that examination.
“Coming to terms with my diagnosis and the fact that the research funding that was collected and used by breast cancer researchers was really likely to lead to my cure,” Liza said.
She was 43 years old when she was diagnosed in 2006. At that point, her survival rate was only 50%.
Their book, “Off Our Chests”, was written by both in alternating chapters, describing their experience in great detail: through chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy.
They then had two school-aged children. Everyone in the family had a different perspective.
“I was very lucky to have an oncologist all the time, but I also knew he knew a lot of things I didn’t want to know,” Liza said.
John held back and didn’t want to scare her about the possible outcomes and risks.
Wanting to stay positive, Liza invited the family to join her while she picked out a wig after chemotherapy. She and the kids had fun with it; John was embarrassed to watch.
Their chapters on the shared experience reflect the conflicts many feel about cancer treatment.
“In a way, writing this was our first chance to tell each other some of the things we felt,” said John.
They hope people will read their book to help cope with their own experience with cancer and learn how to be better caregivers for patients and loved ones battling the disease.
“Cancer is a team sport from a medical point of view. We recognize that you need surgeons, oncologists, radiotherapy oncologists, social workers and nurses and as needed. But that’s to take care of your body, ”said John. “What we don’t really spend much time down there in the hospital is your heart and your soul.”