By Louis DiNicola, MD
Medical Director for Primary Care
For 42-plus years I have been a pediatrician caring for families of the Giﬀord community. I have had the honor of holding approximately 6,000 newborn babies in my hands, and to this day I still am covered with goosebumps every time.
Caring for children and their families is what I do and what I have wanted to do my entire adult life. Physicians want to care for their patients and help them through the wonderful experience of birth through childhood, and through adult life.
Being a physician has been an honor for me, and up until two-and-a-half years ago I never saw myself as a patient. Oh, sure, I had a broken arm from an avalanche and a few minor medical issues along the way, but on May 17, 2016, my perspective changed when I had a four-hour-long surgery for prostate cancer. Cancer is a diagnosis that no one wants to hear. As a physician leading what I believed to be a healthy life, I thought, “Surely I could not get cancer.” But I did. Suddenly I was someone with a serious medical problem. I became a patient.
The surgery conﬁrmed that I had an aggressive form of prostate cancer, but the good news was “they got it all.” As a patient, I was relieved, but still I was a patient. I did well until November 2017, when my PSA [prostate-specific antigen] suddenly began to rise and it was determined that I had a recurrence “only” at the site of surgery. However, “only” required 36 radiation-therapy treatments—36 trips, Monday-Friday, to Central Vermont Medical Center, Gifford’s partner on radiation therapy. This month I learned that my PSA was responding to therapy and I was, hopefully, “cured.”
What did I learn during the last two-plus years of being a patient? I learned that the amazing people who cared for me—the physicians, the nurses, the therapists and all the oﬃce staﬀ—did an amazing job for me, their patient—not a doctor. Their kindness, their empathy in itself was therapeutic. I actually enjoyed the interactions because they made me feel, with their honesty and open arms for occasional much-needed hugs, at ease with my diagnosis.
How does this relate to the Last Mile Ride? After 13 rides, despite being a physician, despite being a son who held his mother’s hand when she died in our nursing home 14 years ago, I was better able to understand that we all will one day face the fact that our lives have a limit. Sometimes without warning, and sometimes with enough warning to be cared for by others. The cared-for-by-others part is key.
The knowledge that we need to care for everyone throughout their life, from the wonderful miracle of birth to the end of life we all will face, is what the Last Mile Ride is all about. Each year we come together as a community to honor that stage. With kindness, empathy and love, and with caring professionals and friends, the transition from life to the end of life can be compassionate and as supportive as possible.
All of you who have participated in this amazing event, the Last Mile Ride, over the last 13 years have raised over $760,000 for end-of-life care. You all are heroes in my mind. You are compassionate, caring and supportive through life’s last mile, and I personally thank every single one of you.