Partnering With Disease: 9 Doctors Studying an Illness Close to Home

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How does having the disease you research in the lab every day affect your work? We spoke to nine doctors, and present their stories here.

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If you're very lucky, you'll never know disease. A blend of good genes and good fortune might let you walk through life ducking the conditions that knock down others. But some people get intimate with disease, either by chance or choice. Patients can battle acute or chronic diseases for months, years, or decades. Doctors and researchers know illness from the other side: They can describe to you the corrupted gene sequence that turns healthy cells into tumor cells, or what's it's like to look into the eyes of a person with cancer, and feel, perhaps, familiarity and distance at once.

And then there are those who walk in both shoes -- doctors who treat or study the same illnesses that they themselves have. This past January, Dr. Richard Olney died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the disease he'd studied for almost two decades. The same month Dr. David Simon, neurologist and co-founder of the Chopra Center, died of a glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer. And last fall, Dr. Ralph M. Steinman succumbed to pancreatic cancer, after having undergone the immune therapies he helped create; his Nobel Prize in Medicine was announced before his death was even known to the world.

The people who study or treat the same disease they develop find themselves in an eerie, but informing, dual role. Sometimes having the disease you treat gives you a powerful perspective; at other times it can be a little too close to home. Here are the stories of nine people who discuss what it's like to know disease both as doctor and patient.

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Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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