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Voices: With gratitude and thanksgiving | Wellness Task Force

Nov 18, 2019

With gratitude and thanksgiving | Wellness Task Force

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. And while it is traditionally a time of giving thanks, many of us will be on call. Some of us will miss family dinner and holiday traditions, and undoubtedly all of us at some point in our career, have felt guilt over gratitude on Thanksgiving (or any) Day, as we ask our loved ones to sacrifice for the career we have chosen. Here’s the thing that is easy to forget – our loved ones are proud of us and the work we do.

In this special Thanksgiving edition of the SGO Wellness blog, we hear from three spouses and a mother of SGO members about life with a gynecologic oncologist in the family. We share these with you in gratitude this holiday season, in recognition of your dedication and in appreciation for you and your families. On behalf of the SGO Wellness Task Force, thank you for all that you do. The following are presented with the permission of both the author and the SGO member.

Bear Barnes, spouse of Ilana Cass, MD

Ilana Cass, MD, and husband Bear Barnes.

My romance with Ilana began the week before her MCAT scores came back, underwhelming. A month into our relationship, a professor who she’d asked for a med school recommendation suggested that maybe law school would be a better fit. Her boat was definitely taking on water, but even in those early days, it was already abundantly clear to me that this beautiful, determined young woman was unsinkable. So sometime later when Ilana decided to pursue GYN Oncology, a field that seemed to attract the toughest of the tough, I wasn’t surprised. What has surprised me, though, over these thirty some-odd years, has been how she’s managed to be at once hard and soft; strong enough to survive the accumulated sadness inherent in her work, yet gentle enough to be there in every way for her patients.

It’s a calling, what Ilana and her peers do. And for the rest of us – who do perfectly valid things like sell shoes, or write ads, or teach math – I think it’s really easy to underestimate the day-in, day-out fortitude it must take. Imagine breaking the news to someone that they have cancer. I still can’t. Imagine going to a job where you cry with your customers on a weekly basis. All I can say is, wow. Ilana, what you do is such an inspiration to me, to the kids, and to our friends and family. It makes us proud. It makes us grateful for the good things we have. And boy are we pleased that you didn’t go to law school.

Matt Kilts, husband of Toni Kilts, MD

Toni Kilts, MD, with her husband Matt Kilts.

I met Toni in 2014 at the start of her journey and we have now been married for almost 3 years. Right away, I noticed there was a difference in her, a desire and drive, to improve the lives of every person she comes in contact with. While I knew my wife as this brave, kind, funny and compassionate person, I don’t think I fully grasped how important and impactful someone in her position could be until we ran into a patient at the local grocery store. This patient recognized my wife immediately, walked to the end of the aisle to give her a huge hug and introduced us to her grandchildren. The patient thanked my wife for taking such good care of her while she was hospitalized and “went through the most difficult period of her life.”

In that moment, it seemed to all make sense to me. The hours that she works, whether it’s operating for 14 hours straight, writing papers at home from the couch, falling asleep while reading or calling patients on Saturday, it is all worth it for her to be able to have such a profound impact on another human life. That moment in the grocery store, I realized how privileged I was to be accompanying her on this journey. I am so blessed to be spending my life with someone who is so kind, passionate, and caring. And while there are times her job limits the amount of time she is available to spend with family, the quality of our time together is just enhanced by the same qualities she exhibits when she cares for these unique patients on a daily basis. I am happy to share my wife with her patients, her profession, and in some ways, it seems this is how I can best make an impact for these same patients my wife works tirelessly to care for. I am grateful and proud to be part of her journey.

Julie Cristino with her husband Giuliano Cristino.

Giuliano Cristino, husband of Julie Cristino, MSN, APN, AGPCNP-BN, OCN
I met Julie a little over ten years ago on a blind date. Prior to us meeting I knew only that she was a nurse and based off the picture I had seen, she was beautiful. Seeing her in person quickly confirmed her attractive physical attributes, but I had no idea at the time those would be outshined by the qualities she possessed within.

I always knew nursing was a tough job, at least what I heard of it. Grueling hours, tough patients, and less pay than other medical professions. However seeing the person you love endure that on a daily basis, working in oncology no less, gave me such a heightened perspective on how nurses lives really are. The first year or so, Julie worked nights. Then she flipped to days, but started going to school part time with the goal of becoming a Nurse Practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering. It wasn’t easy for us. We would see each other at crazy times or go stretches relying on phone calls and texts. But I was always in awe of how she juggled the insane schedule and our relationship, never compromising her ability to be the best nurse to her patients and friend to her coworkers.

This appreciation of how Julie truly embodies what it is to be a nurse came early in our relationship. Within the first year, my aunt who battled uterine leiomyosarcoma seven years earlier had a recurrence. Julie didn’t not know much about this GYN cancer as she worked on the head and neck floor at Sloan. Being the person that she is, though, she took a vested interest in my aunt’s care even though she barely knew her at the time. She would be sure to stop by my aunt’s floor after her long shift to help ease any fears she had. I could see firsthand how empathetic Julie was, and I loved her for that. It was this experience that inspired her to specialize as a Gynecology Oncology Nurse Practitioner, a role she has been dedicated to for the last five years.

Now that we’re together over ten years and married over five, I need no reminder that I’ve married a smart, compassionate, hardworking woman. Julie has shown those qualities countless times over the years and is always looking for ways to give back and help people. This year, for example, Julie has coordinated a campaign, raising over $11,000 so far for MSK’s Cycle for Survival. She’s ridden and fundraised three times in the past, but this year our family has extra motivation as we ride to eradicate rare cancers like the pancreatic cancer her mom is currently battling. I’m so thankful to have found someone who is endlessly motivated to make the lives of others better, any way she can. I’m a lucky guy.

Joyce Rash, mother of Joanne Rash, MPAS, PA-C

Joanne Rash with her mom, Joyce Rash.

Since she was a little girl, Joanne has always had a big heart for helping others. When she was in elementary school, she helped take care of classmates who got hurt on the playground. During her college years she worked at a nursing home caring for elderly patients. For the last 13 years she has been treating cancer patients.

In 2002 Joanne’s brother became deathly ill and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. After my son and I were sent home from the doctor’s office, I called Joanne. Over the phone she talked me through the procedure for giving him an insulin shot and I continued to consult with Joanne throughout that scary night checking his blood sugar. Only with Joanne’s knowledge and expertise did he survive that awful night. When Joanne’s son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age five, Joanne became very involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fundraising efforts to combat diabetes.
Two years ago when I had my knee replacement surgery, Joanne drove to our home several times after working a full day at the gynecologic oncologist clinic to help with my recovery. She even helped put on my compression stockings.

She cares for her cancer patients with knowledge, dedication, and kindness just as she cares for her family. She is an active participant in the “Sparkle of Hope” fundraiser event working to find a cure for cancer at the University of Wisconsin. Even with her busy schedule, she finds time to give presentations at SGO meetings. I love and admire her for her dedication to her cancer patients and her willingness to work long hours to provide the best care for them.