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A Tribute to My Sister Uma

by | Oct 12, 2021 | Tribute

My dear sister, Uma was born on October 13, 1945 in Mysore City, India to Vijaya Bai and Madhava Rao.

Even at a young age, I can still remember how everyone praised Uma for her broad knowledge and sharp wit. I was told countless times by her former teachers exactly how brilliant a student she was. And in India, where there are over 40 students in a classroom, she was always at the top of her class.

Growing up, I idolized Uma, and ever the protective older sister, she had a great deal of influence on me from the books I learned to love, to the music I learned to appreciate.

I remember how close we were and how I always looked up to her. Whenever she had time, Uma took me everywhere with her. Most often our outings would be to the Mysore City Library where she introduced me to her favorite authors in fiction – P.G. Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy, Alistair Maclean, A.J. Cronin, Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie and many others. We didn’t have a T.V. those days, so we spent a lot of our free time just reading.

She had a keen interest in western classical music and enjoyed listening to Beethoven, Chopin, Strauss and later Mahler. Which meant I developed a keen interest in them as well.

Uma unknowingly had a great deal of influence over me, well past my teenage years. But being sisters, we would still fight over little things. Like when I left my stuff in her room or took her favorite pen or sweater without her permission. But the arguments were soon forgotten and we would be back to being friends again.

My parents said that even as a child, Uma wanted to be a Physician. They believed that the loss of our two brothers is what inspired Uma to become a Physician. I remember that while she was in medical school, she studied day and night. And as with every goal Uma set out to accomplish, she did so with fierce determination and concentration.

After receiving her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S) degree in 1968, she did her Rotating internship at K.R. & Cheluvamba Hospitals in Mysore, India.

It was around this time that Uma set her sights on opportunities in America. Still only in her early 20’s, she decided to pursue a residency in Anatomic Pathology at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, Texas.

Uma passed the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) and made the biggest move of her life, by herself. This would mark the first time that my sister and I would be away from each other.

She wrote to us regularly telling us how everything was different in America, including driving on the right side of the road; and the first time she ate a juicy burger and fries and liked it a lot. She sent us pictures of her first apartment, her first car – a Chevy Nova, and of the vibrant fields of beautiful bluebells. She wrote about how exciting it was going to the Houston Astrodome Rodeo for the first time. She wrote how she enjoyed speeding on the highway in her new car (causing my parents much concern). She sent us pictures of her friends. She seemed to love her newfound freedom and independence.

In 1972, Uma moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to do her Residency in Clinical Pathology at Harrisburg Hospital. Shortly after, she moved to Buffalo, New York to do her Residency in Anatomic Pathology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute on Head, Neck and Lung Carcinoma and Bone, Soft Tissue and Melanocytic Tumors, where she served as Cancer Research Clinician and Associate Chief the next 18 years.

She wrote about how cold it was in Buffalo with the lake-effect, but how much she loved it all. She had made a lot of friends and loved her work.

While in Buffalo, Uma and I were reunited after years of being apart. In 1987, Uma sponsored myself, my husband Anand, and our son Oscar to the United States.

It had been almost 16 years of being apart. We made up for the lost time by spending as much time together as we could – talking about family, books, food, movies and everything we could think of. She would take us on long drives to show us around Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Toronto.

Not long after coming to America, my family and I left Buffalo as our jobs took us elsewhere. We moved to Poughkeepsie, New York for a few years and shortly after, the Washington D.C. Metro area, where we ended up settling.

Uma spent free weekends and holidays with us. We would go on trips to New York City during the holidays and Virginia Beach in summer. She tried not to miss the Cherry Blossom Festival, as it was her favorite time of year to visit Washington D.C. We enjoyed going to the art museums, the Botanic Gardens, shows at the Kennedy center and long walks on the tidal basin whenever she visited.

In 1992, Uma moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to continue her work at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) School of Medicine.

She spent the next 11 years as a General Surgical Pathologist and developed The Center of Excellence in Bone and Soft Tissue Tumors and Melanoma.

From 2000 to 2019, she was a Professor of Pathology, as well as Director of Bone-Soft Tissue and Melanoma at the Center of Excellence, BST Fellowship Director, and Pathology Coordinator at UPMC Shadyside for the Surgical Oncology Fellowship Program. Her significant contributions earned her the title of “Clinical Professor Emeritus” from UPMC/UPP, which is a title of honor bestowed on those who retire after a career of clinical excellence. Among her many accomplishments, Uma also held 176 refereed articles and publications, 37 published abstracts and presentations, and numerous chapters in books.

After retiring in 2019, she accepted the position of Chief Research Pathologist at the Gynecologic Cancer Center of Excellence, The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. Of course, being Uma, she could not stand still for even a moment and wanted to keep busy. Her workplace was close to our home, so she moved in with our family in Fairfax, Virginia at my suggestion. She enjoyed her new job and new friends. She often said they were like family and she enjoyed all the social events and food they shared.

My sister was a curious, dynamic, and extroverted person who won and sustained a great many friendships that lasted her lifetime. She loved her friends and kept them close. She was a remarkably generous and kind person who deeply cared about those around her.

Uma battled and overcame breast cancer, along with debilitating back pain and later surgery, with courage and dignity.

Uma passed away suddenly on April 7, 2020 leaving a huge void in my life. She was my idol, my friend, my counsellor and defender, who stood by me always and will forever be remembered.

Her life-changing impact in the field of Pathology will never be forgotten. Uma will always be remembered for her fierce dedication and passion for her work, her brilliance and her significant contributions to the medical field.

2 Comments

  1. Mr cv netharam nethu

    Very memorable relished the old memories

    Reply
    • jamuna

      Dear Nethu, thank you

      Reply

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