Denise Grady: “The Faces I’ll Remember, Long After I Put My Notebook Down”

From an Inside the Times story by Denise Grady headlined “The Faces I’ll Remember, Long After I Put My Notebook Down”:

“I would like to have lived longer, worked longer,” Sister Mary Andrew Matesich, a Catholic nun, told me in 2004. But, she said, “It’s not the hand I’ve been dealt.”

She had breast cancer that had spread, and she had volunteered for experimental treatments, knowing they would probably not save her but hoping the research would help other patients.

“I wouldn’t be alive today if other women hadn’t been in clinical trials,” she said.

She died about a year after we spoke. She was 66.

In 22 years of writing about medicine for The New York Times, I’ve covered births, deaths, diseases, new treatments that worked and some that failed, bold innovations in surgery and countless studies written up in medical journals. The goal has always been to provide clear information that readers would find useful and interesting, and to show the human side, what the news might mean for patients….

Today is my last day as a staff writer at The Times. As I head into retirement, what stays with me most vividly are the people: their faces, their voices, their stories, the unexpected truths they revealed — sometimes after I put my notebook away — that shook or taught or humbled me, and reminded me that this beat is about much more than all the data I had tried to parse over the decades. It is a window into the ways that illness and injury can shape people’s lives, and the tremendous differences that advances in medicine can make, for those who have access to them.

Many who spoke with me had suddenly become what we all fear turning into — patients — and faced tough situations. None were looking for attention, but they consented to interviews in the hopes that their stories might help or encourage other people.

Tom and Kari Whitehead invited me into their home in 2012 to meet their daughter, Emily, then 7, who had been near death from leukemia when they gambled on an experimental treatment that genetically altered some of her cells. She was the first child to receive it. During our visit seven months after she was treated, she was doing somersaults and had decorated the family’s Christmas tree with a naked Barbie doll. Emily is 16 now, and the treatment she received was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017.

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