I am a doctor—that is something I have wanted to say since I was diagnosed with cancer as a kid.
My name is Raphaël Nahar Rivière and I trained as a medical student at the University of Ottawa. I will be starting at the University of Toronto this coming fall, as a resident physician in Anesthesiology. My path to medicine started when I was young. Shortly after we arrived in Canada from Bangladesh, I had recurring bone pains and fevers. After a referral to SickKids, my mom took me to see a rheumatologist, who gave us the devastating news: I had Ewing’s Sarcoma. After that, the chemotherapy, bone transplant and everything else changed my life as a seven year-old boy.
My cancer diagnosis was particularly hard on my family. Over the years we became estranged from our father as he failed to cope with the realities of having a sick child in a foreign country. Eventually, he left. My mom was made of tougher stuff. She became a full time caregiver and later worked exhausting retail jobs. This was a starkly different reality from what she had envisaged as an aspiring Anthropology professor back in Bangladesh. Despite these trials and tribulations of being a single mother, her indefatigable optimism inspired me to push myself.
I studied hard and went on to earn the TD scholarship, which helped me through my studies during my bachelor’s at Trinity College, University of Toronto. Following my bachelor’s I was accepted to the University of Ottawa for medical school in the French stream. This was my ideal choice because I had become somewhat of a Francophile during an internship in France and wanted desperately to maintain my proficiency while pursuing a career in medicine. These skills would ultimately open doors for me to go on a medical mission to Bénin, a francophone country in West Africa. In Bénin, our team of Canadian physicians, residents, medical students, nurses and pharmacists served over 1000 patients at an impoverished rural village. During that time, I resuscitated my first neonate born to an eclamptic mother, and had the honour of naming another newborn, on whose mother I performed a spinal. These experiences were transformative and inspired me to ultimately choose Anesthesiology for my future—a specialty which affords unique, life saving skills to its students.
I can still remember playing Pokémon Stadium in my bed on the 8th floor at SickKids Hospital, as if it were yesterday. This journey to become a doctor has been so long, and at many times challenging. I am like any other student. I grumble, cry and laugh about how much there is to learn and wonder if I will ever be good enough to give my patients the best care they could possibly get. However, my experiences have taught me that life is a precious opportunity and that it should not be forsaken. I am so very grateful to my friends, family, mentors and most certainly, all the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and medical personnel without whom I would not be able to serve as a physician today.
This year my mom plans to finish her PhD at U of T–something she always dreamed of completing before I got sick. I guess it’s somewhat of a coincidence that I’ll be getting my doctorate too, and we will be graduating together.