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Become a member and receive career-enhancing benefits

Our top priority is providing value to members. Your Member Services team is here to ensure you maximize your ACS member benefits, participate in College activities, and engage with your ACS colleagues. It's all here.

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Cancer and Community Showed Me the Importance of Asking for Help

Anthony J. Duncan, MD

June 12, 2024


Dr. Anthony Duncan

“Will you help me?” It may seem like a simple question, but how often do we truly ask for help? For those unfamiliar with my journey, I was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer in January 2023. Following this diagnosis, I reflected on my experiences and penned an ACS Bulletin article highlighting the importance of self-care within our field. Since its publication in August 2023, I have undergone standard chemotherapy followed by a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. For several months thereafter, I believed, like many patients in my situation, that I had been cured. However, last fall, my tumor markers began to rise once more.

Initially, there was hope that this elevation was due to low testosterone, causing an increase in my beta-hCG levels, as my computed tomography (CT) scan remained negative. Despite medication supplementation, my markers continued to rise, and a recent CT scan revealed new posterior mediastinal nodes. This news was difficult to digest, to say the least. Testicular cancer is often labeled as one of the “good cancers” due to its high initial cure rate. However, with this news, came a challenging treatment decision.

I was presented with two options: a chemotherapy regimen that carried a 100% risk of peripheral neuropathy or a less-studied regimen involving high-dose chemotherapy with autologous bone marrow transplant. As a surgical resident, both options could significantly impact my life.

Standard treatment protocols dictate outpatient care with a 24/7 caregiver present. If I couldn’t find a caregiver, admission for the duration of treatment was an option. Initially, my inclination was toward admission. Who would want to dedicate 2–3 months as my caregiver? Moreover, I didn’t want to burden anyone.

I hesitated to reach out for help or share my struggles with others. When asked how I was doing or what assistance I needed, my response was always that I was fine or that I didn’t need anything. But was that truly the case?

It wasn’t until someone posed the question: “What would you do if you were on the other side?” My immediate response was that I would want to help. This prompted me to reflect on why I was reluctant to accept help and where this mindset originated. Why is it so difficult to actually tell others what I need, and why did I have the feeling I wanted to do this alone?


After being diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer, Dr. Anthony Duncan received treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Much of our surgical training and profession instills a sense of independence. We are praised for our ability to handle stress, patient loads, long hours, and emotionally taxing situations. Yet, we often advise others to seek help when needed.

So, why the disconnect?

I don’t have a definitive answer. However, after much thought and hesitation, I finally accepted that while I did much of my prior journey alone, this time I was going to do it differently. Because at the end of the day, does doing things alone and being completely independent really foster relationships? Does it allow for you to bond and share experiences with others or allow others to express their feelings?

Once I began to allow others to help, it was an incredible experience. With anything, there were absolutely highs and lows of asking for help. Of course, medical bills began to accumulate, and as a resident, expenses often exceed what we earn. I finally allowed my sister to create a GoFundMe campaign, which was both intimidating and enlightening. It served as a means to inform those who were unaware of my situation and request assistance from countless individuals.

I believe we often underestimate the impact we have on others’ lives, even as residents, and the number of people we touch. Within 24 hours, more than 150 people had donated, the majority of whom I had not seen or spoken to since medical school or the beginning of residency. The GoFundMe campaign allowed many people to become aware of my situation, and many individuals reached out to me to let me know that I was missed and that if I needed anything to let them know. Practically everyone who reached out informed me that I would be in their thoughts and prayers throughout this battle.

At the end of the day, I think we can all work on remembering our positive experiences, the patients who we save, and the lives that we change. This serves as a powerful reminder that we are not alone in our medical journey and that we make a difference in people’s lives every day.

While this past year has been more stressful and life-changing than any prior year, it also has transformed me as a person and physician. I have always prided myself on being fully independent, and now, I understand that could mean taking away the chance for people around us to help and show they care. I also have a great appreciation for everything I do now. Even as residents, we have a significant impact on the lives of  patients, staff, and our coworkers, which is so important to remember as we continue through our lives and careers.


The thoughts and opinions expressed in this viewpoint article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ACS.

Dr. Anthony Duncan is a general surgery resident at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, with plans to specialize in burn surgery and critical care. He also has a passion for medical education research and quality improvement.