Joelle Pauporte, M.D., recalls that day in July 2003 when she awaited the
results of a mammogram.
"I knew when the doctor came in that something was wrong," she
told Psychiatric News. "He said that although, as a radiologist, he
could not make a full diagnosis, it certainly looked as if I had cancer.
"I was initially shocked, terrified. I called my husband and asked
him to come home. Of course he did. He is a physician as well....I don't think
that being a psychiatrist helped me control my feelings, at least not
"But because I am a psychiatrist," she continued, "I
think I was able to observe and understand my feelings....I especially felt
anxiety, but certainly also depression, secondary to probably an adjustment
While she was in the hospital to have a modified radical mastectomy,
Pauporte asked staff over and over again, "Am I going to die?,"
knowing that no one knew the answer and that she was simply seeking
Being a psychiatrist does not necessarily help one cope with the loss of
control and dependency that comes with having cancer, Pauporte learned. In
fact, from this vantage point, being a psychiatrist may be detrimental since
psychiatrists are used to being in control where illness is concerned and
caring for others, not being patients themselves.
However, pursuing a meaningful goal while having cancer can help counter
feeling out of control and dependent, Pauporte noted. "I realize that my
book drive has actually put me back into control. I have started to delegate
to other people."
Certainly, how one reacts to having cancer reveals a person's character,
Pauporte discovered. For example, "Within about a month of her starting
with us [as chief resident], Joelle received her [cancer] diagnosis,"
Harold Schwartz, M.D., psychiatrist in chief at Hartford Hospital, told
Psychiatric News. "It was clear from the beginning that she was
seriously ill. Nevertheless, and despite the extensive and debilitating
process of treatment for her cancer, Joelle hung in with our program, meeting
with and teaching our residents whenever her strength allowed. Her personal
strength in the face of this challenge has been remarkable. She was determined
to graduate from the residency, and she was able to achieve
that—becoming the first graduate of the new Institute of Living/Hartford
Hospital psychiatry residency training program."