A detour: Medical student learns about health care as a patient


Medical student Alex Paley was in his third year of medical school when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Jan. 18 and underwent emergency surgery. He has been in treatment since then.

He would much rather be a doctor than a patient.

Alex Paley has a brain tumor, and his fellow medical students at Upstate (below) set up a crowdfunding site for him. (PROVIDED PHOTO)

Paley has a rare, fast-growing tumor in his brain called a glioblastoma, which made itself known with an excruciating headache and slight facial paralysis. Lawrence Chin, MD, chief of neurosurgery at Upstate Medical University, removed nearly all of the tumor.  Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York are overseeing Paley’s radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

He ran cross-country at Albany High School and continued running on the track team at the University of Miami, where he majored in engineering. He began medical school at Upstate in 2014. Running continued to be a passion.

After his diagnosis, his Upstate classmates put together a fundraising run with t-shirts proclaiming “I’m with Alex,” and 814 donors have helped raise $77,604 for Paley’s expenses on YouCaring.com.

Paley says he’s grateful for his medical knowledge. It has saved him from having to educate himself during his own medical crisis, and he’s not as scared or overwhelmed as he imagines he would be otherwise. He finds himself explaining a lot to his mother.

With the vantage point of a patient, Paley says he sees the importance of explaining everything to patients, and of being available to field their concerns.

Yes, he would rather be finishing medical school than undergoing chemotherapy. But, Paley is making the best of his situation – and still learning about medicine.

He says, “I feel like this is going to help me be a better doctor.”

Paley’s medical school classmates at Upstate who helped raise money to cover his expenses include, from left: (front row) Gabrielle Ritaccio, Kathryn Conway, Victoria Fairchild, Kathleen Donovan and Samantha La Qua; (standing) Peter Congelosi, Daniel Santarsieri, John Lofrese, Mckinzie Neggers, Mary Powers, Emily Kellogg, Kaitlin Nicholson, Caroline Shank, Omazonna Amadi, Larissa Assam, Emily Malavenda, Danielle Faivus and Katie Patrick. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

This article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

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