Chasing Mavericks

Chasing Mavericks is a movie about legendary big wave surfer Jay Moriarity. For those who like to see people rocket down ridiculously big waves just for the thrill of it (like me), the movie is a treat. Nevertheless, the critical response to the movie has been uneven. Interestingly, one reviewer pointed out that surfer movies in general are particularly hard to bring to the screen. As an audience we like movies that have a plot that moves from early struggles to a successful climax. There is a beginning, middle and end; however, surfing isn’t like that. Of course surfers are always seeking out that one big wave and that one perfect ride and as soon as they achieve it, they go right back looking for another wave to ride. There is no end to the story, no matter how fantastic any one wave, there is always another one just behind it.

In some ways this also describes cytology, and cytology screening in particular. Perhaps this is why cytology has struggled to advertise itself to the American public. Cytologists screen day in and day out. Everyone is looking for that one great case where they identify a single abnormal cell that makes all the difference in the life of a patient. For the patient, that cell is part of a story that is easy to tell. Everything was fine until crisis struck, and then with the help of a wide variety of health care professionals, the patient successfully overcomes the crisis.

For the cytologist who found that cell, there is of course satisfaction. Perhaps someone in the laboratory may even point out how great a call it was. But more often than not, few people in the laboratory will know what happened, and certainly no one outside the laboratory will think about how lucky that patient was to have that cytologist looking at his or her slides, especially if it was a really great call. Instead, that cytologist will go back to work and start screening more cases. They rode the big one, they did what everyone in the field wants to achieve someday, but the mission doesn’t change. No matter how great the call, there is always another wave coming up right behind it, and that does not fit well on the American movie screen.

But as the surfers in the movie point out, it doesn’t really matter. Sure they want their story on the screen, they want people to understand what they are doing and appreciate it. But at the end of the day all that really matters is that they are doing it, and are going to keep doing it because that is their mission in life. Perhaps we should learn something from these surfers, who are always quick to recognize when one of their own has succeeded, since no one else is likely to recognize us. We in the laboratory should all take a little more time to recognize the individuals who have succeeded in catching that big wave and identified a cell that may change someone’s life. We should acknowledge that it is those who screen who are really the big wave surfers of our world!

Andrew Renshaw, MD
ASC President, 2012-2013

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