The Novice Division

As we trudged through the dusty field, the blazing sun and stickiness reminded me that late August in Sugar Land was not always a pleasant time to be outside. I was attending a FFA (Future Farmers of America) show at the school district barn with my brand new freshman son. I was ill prepared for the afternoon as I had no idea what to expect. Under the impression this was a short meeting for FFA parents, I was not anticipating a three hour ordeal of standing in the hot sun watching excited teens parade the animals they had been tirelessly raising for the past several months. This was a practice show before the real deal at the Fort Bend County Fair the following month.

As I stood behind the well prepared parents with their comfortable chairs and coolers of drinks, I made a few observations. I didn’t know much about FFA, or about raising a high school child for that matter. When my son began high school, I mandated he had to be involved in something. I didn’t care what, but he needed to have a group where he felt he belonged. FFA, teenagers, it was all unexplored territory I was navigating and I felt like I needed a quick education to gain proficiency in this segment of life.

The first observation I had was, “no wonder my son wants to join FFA…there are a lot of very cute little girls here…in fact, the majority of the club must be girls.” The first group that showed their animals that night was the steers. I’ve since learned this is a male bovine with his masculine parts removed. Six teens (of which 5 were female) waltzed with their steers around the dusty ring. I was amazed at how these willowy 100 lb kids could effortlessly lead a beast 15 times their size with only a small halter. I was more amazed at how profusely these animals slobbered everywhere.

The next division was the lambs. These lambs must be the amazon version. Lambs are little; right…at least Mary’s was in the song. These little lambs were the size of a Great Dane. The young teens spent the next 10 minutes doing their best to drag these animals around the ring. Lambs must be kin to the proverbial “jackass” as they were not compliant like the steers. The goats were next. Similar to the lambs, but the halters were chains, not rope. Eventually I learned this is because they eat any and every thing including their halters.

Next came the final animal…the hogs. Wow, lots of pigs! I would eventually learn this is because they are one of the easier animals to raise. They only have to be fed daily, not twice daily like the steers, lambs, and goats. I still wonder why goats have to be fed twice a day since they eat any and every thing.

In the arena, the hogs wandered aimlessly around the ring with a young teen following them and beating them with a stick every once in a while to give the appearance that they were controlling the direction they went. They weren’t.

Since there were so many pigs, they were divided into the senior division (people who had previously raised an animal) and the novice division (people who were new at this adventure). Novice, that’s me…I have no idea how to raise a teenager. Do they have a novice division for mothers? Having a high school student was a new experience. Choosing the correct courses to take, how to prepare and choose the right college, and dealing with the idea that too soon my son would be launched on his own. How would he do? Would he make good choices? What can I do to help him on his journey?

As I reflected upon the evening, I realized my patients with breast cancer must feel like I did that night… Ill prepared for the journey they are embarking upon. Unsure if they are making the correct decisions. Feeling as if they must gain a vast world of knowledge and understanding in a very short period of time. While this is the first time my patients are dealing with the treatment of breast cancer, most of my life has been devoted to gaining an education and expertise to guide them.

The good news is that breast cancer treatment is highly standardized based on proven historic results. I often refer patients to a website of the national comprehensive cancer network ( which gives the treatment standards for all cancers, including breast cancer. The treatment and outcome are very similar if the patient is treated by a multidisciplinary team (team of doctors made up of multiple specialties) whether they go to a large institution or a more personalized community program. Educating my patients on their disease and their treatment, then walking through the experience with them is one of the most meaningful parts of my job. With education they feel empowered; with companionship they feel encouraged to face what is likely the most critical part of their life’s journey.