Stories of progress, inspiration, and information in overcoming osteosarcoma.

Lewis Smith and sister Jasmine Smith, MD

A Career Dedicated to Her Brother

Jasmine Smith, MD, knew she wanted to be a doctor, but she only decided on pediatric oncology as her specialty after her younger brother was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

Since middle school, Jasmine Smith, MD, knew she wanted to be a doctor — an obstetrician, to be exact.

“My whole plan all along was to deliver babies,” she says. “That’s the reason I decided to go to medical school.”

Jasmine’s plan changed during her sophomore year in college when she attended Army Basic Training in Missouri. When her family picked her up at the end of training, she learned the devastating news: Two months prior, her 14-year-old brother, Lewis, had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma. She was in shock.

“I knew, of course, what cancer was, but I never imagined my brother would get cancer. I always thought of it as something that happened to older people,” Jasmine says. “I remember the whole ride back to Virginia just trying to figure out what that meant. It was confusing because he looked fine. All I could do was try my best not to cry.”

Declaring a Specialty

Her brother’s osteosarcoma story sparked an interest in the field of oncology, and once Jasmine completed a pediatric oncology rotation during medical school, she felt ready to choose her specialty. Around the same time, Lewis was declared cancer-free. “I felt I could emotionally handle being in that field, despite having such a close connection to that particular specialty,” Jasmine says.

Unfortunately, Lewis’s cancer made a recurrence during Jasmine’s third year of medical school.

“At about the two-year survivor mark, doctors started seeing lung nodules pop up during his routine scans,” she says. “They would pluck out a nodule in one place and another one would pop up a few months later. That kept going until the doctor suggested taking out the whole lung.”

To the dismay of Jasmine and her parents, Lewis didn’t want the surgery. Because he was now over 18, the decision was entirely his.

“From there, all that was left was trials,” Jasmine says. “Everybody was honest with the fact that there was nothing that they could give him that was going to cure it. And that is when he ultimately decided that he was tired of it. Had it been up to us, we would have wanted to try more things, but he was very clear that he wanted to be home.”

Three months later, Lewis was gone.

Shifting Focus

Knowing exactly what it is like to lose a young loved one to cancer meant Jasmine could connect with her patients and their families in a way few can. But over time, she realized that the connection to their cancer stories was not serving her in the way she hoped it would. She was still grieving her brother, and it was too painful to also lose patients to osteosarcoma.

“I still have all of these emotions because of Lewis, and I never want to make a patient’s diagnosis about me,” Jasmine says. “I did not want to continue taking care of osteosarcoma patients knowing that there was nothing new that I could offer them for possible cure.”

“I still have all of these emotions because of Lewis, and I never want to make a patient’s diagnosis about me. I found that I can still be impactful in the lives of osteosarcoma patients without doing actual clinical care.” — Jasmine Smith, MD

Fortunately, an opportunity came along that would allow Jasmine to continue to serve pediatric cancer patients without being exposed to emotional triggers. As a soon to be clinical reviewer for the Food and Drug Administration, Jasmine will join a team of physicians who regulate investigational new drug applications, new drug applications and biologic licensing applications for gastrointestinal cancers, superficial cutaneous cancers, melanoma, and sarcoma. “I found that I can still be impactful in the lives of osteosarcoma patients without doing actual clinical care,” says Jasmine.

Trying to Find Peace

Jasmine says she hopes that taking a step back from clinical care will give her the space she needs to properly grieve her brother and process her experience in therapy. Connecting with other siblings of osteosarcoma patients at the MIB Agents Factor Conference, which she attended with her mother earlier this year, also helped.

“This was the first time we went — nearly seven years after Lewis passed away,” she says. “It was nice to be there with people who get it. I think it definitely helped both of us.”

During the trip, though, Jasmine delved more into the topic of Lewis’s treatment with her mother and learned that he had not received the full recommended chemotherapy protocol following his limb-sparing surgery.

Jasmine says she has had a difficult time processing this information and is “not at peace with it.” Still, she is doing her best to keep herself from pondering all the what ifs, and instead, focus on what is to come.

“There is so much research happening,” she says. “Hopefully, over the next couple of years, we will start seeing more drug trials opening up for osteosarcoma patients.”

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