“The person I miss most is the one I could have been.”

–G. B. Shaw


The little boy ran circles around his mother as she stood outside the restaurant smoking a cigarette. The young woman and her friend were engaged in an animated discussion and the smoke rolled from their mouths and drifted past their faces. Suddenly, the toddler stopped running and squeezed his mother’s hand. Once her gaze had focused on him, he smiled broadly. She grinned back at him and he resumed running laps. She took a drag on her cigarette and resumed her conversation. 

A few days later, I stood at the bedside of a delightful woman in her mid-fifties. She was at peace, slipping in and out of wakefulness, and very near to death. Her smoking-related cancer had required removal of her voice box and a course of radiation therapy. Months later, her cancer had recurred and all of her treatment options had now been exhausted. Her whole family had been doing their best to prepare for this day and her adult children were gathered in a semicircle around the bed. One of her boys sat dejectedly in a chair gripping her hand. Slowly, she opened her eyes and their eyes met. He brightened visibly and tightened his grip. She closed her eyes but they both continued to smile. 

I was struck that the two scenes were essentially from the same drama, with the second following inexorably from the first. Within a few days, I had witnessed two points along the same arc.


About the Author

Bruce Campbell, MD, grew up in the Chicago area, graduating from Purdue University and Rush Medical College. He completed an otolaryngology residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a head and neck surgery fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He was a faculty member, ENT specialist and surgeon with Froedtert & MCW health network from 1987 until his retirement in 2021.

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