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I was born on September 11, so for many reasons, I tend to like a quieter birthday celebration. And since my birthday happened to fall on the Monday before our Foundations of Molecular Medicine exam, I had even less motivation to celebrate this year. Maybe next year, I told myself.

My family, however, wasn’t quite as supportive of this view. “Give us a reason to celebrate, and we’ll celebrate!” my Grandma Berkemeier would cheer, even into her mid-90s. As such, it was not too surprising that my family had other plans for me. Well, we’d just have to start early!

My fiancé Ben and I were the first patrons at Northside Grill on Monday morning with enough time to enjoy a breakfast burrito, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a brisk walk up to the med school before 8:15 a.m. lecture began. While studying metabolism has never been a favorite pastime of mine (and that was on deck until 10 a.m.), I did consider the mid-morning lectures to be a birthday present: gene therapy and cancer genetics. Before starting medical school, I had explored topics like these during my master’s studies in Bioethics at King’s College London as UM’s Roger M Jones Fellow. I also worked for the VHL Alliance and frequently found myself explaining the principles of cancer genetics to individuals with VHL, a cancer genetic syndrome that sure enough found its way into the lecture material. This was my stuff!

Lunch came before I knew it, and my sister Monica (a PA in urgent care) was able to request the day off, drive in, and join me for Dr. Farr Curlin of Duke Divinity School discussing “What does Religion have to do with the Practice of Medicine?” Hosted by UM Medical School’s new Program on Health, Spirituality, and Religion, this lecture was of notable interest for M1s since we had just had a segment in our Doctoring course that focused on the importance of taking a spiritual history. One of the things that I found most interesting was that the research Dr. Curlin presented suggesting that censoring religion from the doctor-patient relationship not only negatively impacted the holistic wellbeing of the patient but also of the physician.

At the top of the hour I headed back to lecture and Monica went back to my apartment. Her gift: making a homemade meal for the busy exam study days ahead and a deck of Netter Anatomy flashcards. Win. 😊

After class, I was able to study for a bit before Gretchen (another sister and roommate 😉), Ben, and I headed down to St Mary Student Parish for the grad / young professional monthly mass and dinner. Now folks—don’t misjudge me: going to this event was admittedly a tough decision. Ann Arbor birthday meal deals come but once a year! And the thought of Real Seafood, Gratzi, or Chop House dinner was tempting. Fortunately, it took but a few minutes for me to feel as though I had chosen well. Not only was the mass beautiful (and the pianist is a crazy talented MD-PhD candidate!) but the dinner with friends was fabulous! It punched above what I was anticipating: pork tenderloin, sweet potato and mushroom quiche, green beans, heritage green salad with pear and goat cheese, and a pumpkin cheesecake with a caramel topping. Homemade. All of it. I’m not joking.

Not my pumpkin birthday cake, but still a great celebration! This cake was from my going away (from the VHL Alliance) party / starting med school party.

As I crawled into bed that night listening to voicemails of friends and family singing happy birthday (Sto Lat in Polish) and Gretchen previewed the recipe for my pumpkin birthday cake (a treat I could take to my Doctoring small group later that week), my heart was warm. While celebrating a birthday during medical school may look a bit different that it did when I could sample many of the Ann Arbor birthday deal locations, this was good. Very good.