When Physicians Get Cancer Dealing with a potentially fatal cancer is difficult for anyone. Doctors with cancer face a special challenge. They're used to giving medical care, not getting it. Two doctors, Elizabeth McKinley and William Tierney, share what they learned as patients.

When Physicians Get Cancer

When Physicians Get Cancer

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Nine years after her initial treatment, Dr. Elizabeth McKinley's breast cancer returned and has now lodged in her bones. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine hide caption

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Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Internist William Tierney was 48 when he learned he had lymphoma. His cancer is now in remission, and it's unlikely it will return. But he is more prone to other types of cancer. hide caption

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Dealing with a potentially fatal cancer is difficult for anyone, but doctors with cancer face a special challenge. They're accustomed to giving medical care, not receiving it. And they know better than most what their future might look like.

Dr. William Tierney, an internist with Indiana University School of Medicine, wasn't happy being known all of a sudden as "the guy with cancer."

"You want to be normal, not self-pitying or any more dependent than you have to be," says Tierney.

For Dr. Elizabeth McKinley, an internist with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, knowledge that she had cancer hit her at odd times, sapping her hope.

"I'd find myself just weeping," she recalls, asking herself, "Will I see my kids get older? Am I going to die? Will I be in pain? Will my husband be all right?"

Tierney learned he had lymphoma at the age of 48. McKinley was 36 when she was told she had breast cancer. The two later met at a medical meeting and decided to write an article addressed to other doctors. They wanted to share what they had learned as patients, and what they learned about hope and dependency.

Today, Tierney's cancer is still in remission, and McKinley's has relapsed to her bone.

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