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Hiroko Tsunoda-Shimizu

by Judit Kawaguchi

Hiroko Tsunoda-Shimizu, age 46, is director of the Department of Radiology at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, where she works with a team of 15 other doctors and 50 radiology technologists diagnosing and trying to eradicate various types of diseases. Tsunoda-Shimizu has been researching breast cancer since 1990 and specializes in mammograms and ultrasounds as a diagnostic radiologist at the Breast Center in St. Luke’s. But while she loves decoding medical photos of her patients, she has no explanation for the mysteries of love that have kept her marriage picture-perfect for the last 19 years.

Marriage is a society of two, and the rules are different for each couple. My husband and I both work from early morning till late at night at the hospital, so we go on dinner dates almost daily and then go back to work some more.

It is impossible to do everything. I don’t stress over cleaning and cooking. I leave the house as it is for a week and we really do not care if it is a little messy or not. Cleaning can wait — there are so many healthy and delicious dishes at department basement stores that there is no reason to cook.

Love your differences and do not try to change each other. My husband and I are very different so we see every issue from two or more viewpoints, making it always fun to talk to each other. We never try to “fix” each other because life would get so dull then.

Healthy people need to go to the hospital, too. The idea that hospitals are for the ill is so outdated. My job is to ask women to do monthly self-examinations and come in for screening when they have absolutely no symptoms — if we catch breast cancer early enough, survival rates are extremely high. Yet 11,000 women die of breast cancer every year in Japan, partly because only 10 percent of the population most at risk (those over 40) come in for a screening. In Western countries, that number is around 70-80 percent.

Sometimes we must hide our real feelings. I am also weak as I am human and imperfect, so when I encounter a slow worker, I sometimes lose my temper. Recently I was at a JR office buying shinkansen tickets and I got a bit upset because the clerk was so slow. Of course he might have been be tired, and, although I wish I didn’t have to deal with that, I also wish I had not gotten angry at him.

Do not compare yourself to others. In the medical world envy is common. Some doctors go to famous hospitals and make more money than others. Peers often say, “Oh, they achieve such great results because they are at a famous hospital.” I don’t believe that’s true. I think spending even one second a day on thinking about what others have or do is just time taken away from doing my work better.

Do what you can where you are today. Results come later. Challenge yourself and do more today than you did yesterday.

Give your knowledge away for free as often as possible. My work at the hospital is very important but I also want to educate other doctors. On weekends I travel around Japan to share what I know about ultrasounds and mammograms with other doctors so they can all go back and use that information to help their patients. Some already told me that what I taught them saved lives. The schedule is a killer for me but it is the most efficient way to help lots of women.

Health checks are good for our health but worrying excessively about diseases is not. I’m in the high-risk group for breast cancer as I have never had a baby, but I don’t think about it. If I did, I would be worried about so many diseases that I would be sleepless forever.

Not everyone has the baby bug. We’ve been married for 19 years but neither of us felt the need to have children. I was always happy with just my husband and never felt the desire for a child, and my husband — who is a doctor at an NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) — takes care of infants day and night. I think he gets enough baby love. Our parents will need help soon so we might as well focus on them.

If I had one month to live, I would want to continue working as I am now. If I can leave something behind, it is knowledge about breast cancer.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Breasts are my job. I see them as meat and fat and just want to do a thorough check to detect anything suspicious.

Think of the consequences of your actions. Always imagine what exactly is going to happen if you say or do something. Will your words hurt someone? If you throw a can away or a cigarette stub, another person will have to clean it up after you. Just imagine who that is, visualize a person doing the actual work after you.

We are so lucky if we make it till tomorrow. If you can keep this in mind, today’s work stress and most personal problems fade and we can appreciate what we have now.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Weekend Japanology.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/