How The Passing Of A Young Physician Changed My Outlook On Life

What would happen if you were diagnosed with a terminal condition tomorrow? Quite a sobering thought, but I’ve been contemplating it lately in light of an upcoming appointment soon to get more life insurance. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Michelle. She was my roommate throughout medical school who passed away this year after a 2 year battle with signet cell colon cancer.

She was in her mid 30s.


Michelle and I acting silly during medical school to keep our mind off the upcoming match. Picture was taken one month before match day.

Medical School Dreams

When we lived together back in 2010-12, we used to dream of life as attendings. We thought we could finally go on trips that we had always dreamed of. We could finally afford to eat great food, buy nicer things, and enjoy life rather than working hard all day everyday.

I can recall many nights spent with her, cooking on our old electric stove in a 4 bedroom house we were renting for $250 a month each. So many nights we spent talking about what we would do once we were done with training. She dreamt of traveling the world, backpacking and staying in hostels to get to meet people from all over.

We then would end up going to the same residency. She was in a different specialty, but one intern night we shared a call shift overnight. Our call rooms would end up being side by side.

There we sat in a crappy call room. The room was slightly bigger than the twin bed it contained. There we sat and returned pages all night while watching Tom Cruise in Oblivion on a crappy TV and eating junk food.

All night we would talk about our life post training we dreamed of. Dreams of getting married to the people we were both dating at the time. Eventually starting a family and entering into that next step in life.

Little did we both know that two years later she would go to her primary care doctor with complaints of abdominal fullness and weight gain. She would eventually find out that she had metastatic signet cell carcinoma at 32 years old.

She would never finish training. She would never fulfill any of those dreams.


Mortality and Its Effect On My Career

During her diagnosis she hid it pretty well from all of her friends, including myself. It was not until the end she lead on how bad things really well.

I’ll never forget one conversation I had with her when I was complaining about my hospitalist job.

I was upset that I was working such terrible hours as a hospitalist. Always missing time and every other weekend or holiday.

One weekend I could not get coverage to attend a friends wedding. I was complaining to her about how much I hated my job, how little I felt I was being paid for my late hours, and how much hospital admin was beating me down.

She listened to me very calmly, but then asked me what I was waiting for?



Did I need her diagnosis to make a change in my life and priorities?

Did I need more money to feel secure before changing jobs?

Did I need to wait for my 401k to hit some threshold before retiring and living life I wanted to?

She asked me what the hell I was waiting for that was so important that it was getting in the way of my happiness.

In her own words. “Stop bitching and start living.”


I Decided To Start Living My Life

I realized that I had been constantly waiting for the “next” thing in my life. Initially I was waiting for graduation from med school. Then I was waiting for graduating from residency.

Then I was waiting for more money in my account. First it was $50,000 goal. Then $100,000, then $250,000. Then it was waiting until I was more senior in my group.

There was always an excuse for why I avoided chasing my dreams (other than being a physician).

I was so focused on saving and FIRE that I even wrote a post called monk mode. Now I cringe when I think about my mindset back then. I tried to convince myself that trying to avoid wanting to spend money on things, while paying off debt and saving money was the way to go forward. For half a year I was so committed to FIRE that my wife and I didn’t even buy a couch. We sat on lawn chairs in our living room.

Then my wife was diagnosed with skin cancer and that hit way too close to home.

My whole outlook on life was under new scrutiny.

I knew I would regret if I didn’t start my own company and practice medicine the way I want to practice medicine.

I also stopped tracking my net worth and started to focus on my net happiness. Even today, I keep no track of my net worth and haven’t opened my 401K account to check the balance in a year. I’m not going to change the current holdings and I not going to withdraw money so no point in checking.


Health And Happiness Go Together

Funny thing is that when I went to work happy, my patients seemed happier. My employees were happier. In 2 years I’ve gone from a hospitalist to owning my own company with 2 physician employees. Now I also own the space I practice out of.

It seems that the happier I am each day I show up, the more that wonderful things happen. I was worried I would make no money opening my own practice and here I am making more than 2 times what I made my first year as a hospitalist. No nights. no weekends. All family time when I’m off work.

Life is good.


The Next Phase

I’ve moved past focusing on FIRE, focusing on net worth, and measuring my life based on a bank account number.

It might be weird to read that on a blog called InvestingDoc. However, becoming happy living my life on my terms has been the best paying investment I’ve ever made. Luckly, my investment in my emotional happiness has not only paid off in emotional fulfilment, it has so far paid off quite well financially.

Life is short. Life is not fair. It sucks that Michelle was handed a shitty hand in life. It sucks that my wife had skin cancer that has left her with a scar that runs right down the middle of her face.

The negative has made me really appreciate all the gifts I have in life. And believe me, when I count my blessings, I feel very blessed.

If I wake up and tell myself I don’t want to do something, I strike it from my calendar and replace it with something that will add to my emotional fulfillment.

Each day is a day to invest in yourself. Invest in things that make you happy. So far, it has been my favorite payment I’ve ever received from any of my investments.

So what the hell is holding you back?

Miss you Michelle.


11 thoughts on “How The Passing Of A Young Physician Changed My Outlook On Life

  • June 29, 2020 at 1:45 PM

    Sad and powerful.
    So true.
    Thanks for sharing.
    p.s. I have been a cancer survivor since age 34. I’m in a bonus round of life now.
    I’m grateful and appreciative of life and all I have.
    But sometimes I forget. Posts like this remind me.
    God Bless.

    • June 30, 2020 at 10:25 AM

      Congrats on surviving cancer. Each day is truly a gift!

  • June 30, 2020 at 9:42 AM

    Thank you for writing such a powerful and important piece. The message is timeless, but I have to be reminded of it frequently.

  • July 3, 2020 at 2:36 PM

    Life is precious. Continue to make the most of yours, which it certainly sounds like you are.

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend Michelle. Sadly, I think we all know someone from medical school who is no longer with us. We lost our first classmate in a drowning just months after we graduated.


    • July 5, 2020 at 9:58 AM

      Wow, I’m sure the shock of losing a classmate so suddenly like that hit a lot of people hard. We never know what is going to happen in life and have to make the best of it with whatever time we all have here.

      Thanks for sharing the article

  • July 5, 2020 at 6:26 AM

    Very sad and inspiring piece. Michelle sounds like a wonderful person, and our world is a bit gloomier without her light.

    Two guys from my close knit fellowship class of 6 people died from cancer within a year of each other right around the age of 50. One had a multi year protracted brain tumor with multiple surgeries and treatments before succumbing and the other who presented with metastatic renal cell cancer and lived about eight months after diagnosis. This led me confront my own professional burnout and take action to live a better life at work and at home. It’s a shame it took the loss of these friends for me to make the necessary changes

    • July 5, 2020 at 9:55 AM

      I’m sorry to hear about your friends diagnosis. Life sure is not fair. The only thing we can all ask for is more time.

  • July 12, 2020 at 2:11 AM

    Sadly, but great post. Many important things that we need to remember, but it is now easy to forget in this fast-living world.
    I’m from the other side of the world, but I’ve had similar situation in med school – death of a classmate in the middle of exam chaos.
    Take care and never forget.

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