A year of courageous acts inspired a urologic cancer surgeon in the Long School of Medicine to publish an essay about what the word courage means to him.

“I wrote this because of the COVID pandemic,” said Dharam Kaushik, MD, of the Department of Urology and the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson. “The question before me was, how courageous are we, how resilient are we? It made me dig down deeper and think about the meaning of courage, including, from a surgeon’s perspective, how I view it.”Dr. Dharam Kaushik, Urology

The sacrifices of others play a significant role in the reflection. “How well do I appreciate my team members’ courage, and not only courage, but their compassion and resilience, understanding how difficult it is for them to do things when they are under such high pressure in life?” Dr. Kaushik asked. “We have to attune ourselves to pointing out these qualities in our team members.”

He asked if, amid the pandemic, everyone can pause, take a step back and look at the positive things we have in our lives.

The essay, titled “Broken Tumor, Intact Courage,” was published Feb. 3 in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases. The title refers to lengthy (eight- to 11-hour) surgeries for advanced kidney cancers that can break off and cause severe kidney damage.

Dr. Kaushik said courage is multifaceted. “You cannot just label one aspect or dimension. It is more than that. Courage comes in different shapes and forms, like 31 flavors of Baskin-Robbins,” he said.

The essay documents several of the beautiful facets, such as:

  • A cardiothoracic surgeon’s commitment to rush to the operating room within 20 minutes when she wasn’t on call.
  • A technician’s preparation of the surgical instruments even on his day off.
  • A patient’s encouragement and gratitude to the team after her surgery.

“The patient said something very beautiful to me, that she came back from light to be my saving grace,” Dr. Kaushik said. “That means a lot. No amount of financial gain or anything can replace that feeling when someone says that to you. And you’re not related to that person, but she’s saying it out of the goodness of her heart.”

Dr. Kaushik said health care providers need to remember why they are in their professions. “Being busy in a pandemic can snuff out the memory,” he said. “What was the purpose? What was the driver? Because we forget it. I think it is just so hard right now, and we need to remind ourselves.”

He said he hopes his piece resonates with surgical and other health care teams and reinforces their morale.

Dr. Kaushik is a clinical associate professor and director of the urologic oncology fellowship program in the Department of Urology and is a urologic oncology surgeon with the Mays Cancer Center and University Health.

Read his inspiring essay here.