In new book, Texas oncologist shares how God used people to help her find joy again
After a dark period in her life, Dr. Sasha Vukelja, a Tyler oncologist known as Dr. V, credited an unexpected source — a patient — for her healing by God.
Vukelja’s new book, which is her third, is an autobiographical, inspirational and spiritual account of how a patient motivated her to live fully again with joy after the darkness. Although she has always been compassionate, the book recounts that she emerged with an increased passion for helping others, particularly the homeless.
Titled “Weeds Among Seeds” and subtitled “The Art of Paying Attention,” the book asserts that life has both weeds and seeds and advises everyone to pay attention to what God is doing and to the needs of others.
It depicts Vukelja’s own journey to the light, aided by friends and God, after experiencing what she termed “moral injury,” a phenomenon she said occurs when someone or something transgresses a person’s beliefs and expectations.
For Vukelja, moral injury came in the form of changes in the medical field that caused her to have less patient contact.
Vukelja had always savored personal connections with her patients and in knowing firsthand everything that was happening to them.
She agonized over the growing use of electronic record keeping in medicine, which necessitated her spending time on documentation on a computer.
Increasing use of a team of doctors and other care providers in the treatment of patients also made her feel removed from her patients because she was no longer their sole provider.
Vukelja grieved so deeply over her inability to practice medicine in the way she wanted that she became angry and downcast to the point it took up to four hours for her to get out of bed in the morning. Some days she could not go to work.
Vukelja recalled recently, “I was really bogged down.” She felt tangled up in “weeds” … things that she did not want in her life. She was crushed, lost weight and felt that she was on a bus that she could not get off.
That was until the day near the end of a patient’s appointment, the patient — Sandra Goodman — asked in a soft voice, “And how is my doctor?”
Vukelja, who was at a low point, began crying. Goodman got up, put her arms around Vukelja and began rocking her back and forth like a baby. Then Goodman inquired if the doctor thought Texas Oncology or the hospital were going to get rid of the computers because Vukelja does not like them.
According to her book, Vukelja shook her head “no.” Goodman followed with advice, “They are not going to change. You have to change. You should look at the computer and think it could be useful. Learn from it.”
Then Vukelja realized she had to modify how she perceived the situation in a different way so that she could take it in and still go on.
She said, “God healed me and gave me my joy back (through) the right person at the right time with the right heart for the right reason.”
She remembers, “The next day, it took me three hours to get out of bed. The day after that, it took me two hours and the fifth day, I got out without the alarm going off the way I usually used to get up.”
Looking back on her conversation with the patient, Vukelja said, “That is an amazing example of how unexpectedly in an unconventional setting someone can help you because God is everywhere. God knew exactly what I needed and he knew how to deliver it. I truly believe that God has healed me.”
Suddenly she was not turned inward. No longer focused on her problems, she became more interested in others and paying attention to the world around her.
Vukelja was so “turned on” that she started helping people who are homeless at the Church Under the Bridge every Saturday.
After reading the book, LaVerne Gollob said it paints a true and broad picture of Vukelja’s love and compassion for anyone, but especially people who are homeless and in need.
Gollob said the book depicts Vukelja’s volunteer work with people who are homeless that includes giving them hugs and doughnuts, bringing in showers, a barber and other people to meet their needs. She is their best friend and they are her best friend, Gollob said.
Vukelja firmly believes that the weeds can be turned into seeds where they are spread and help someone else along the way, Gollob said. “She energizes people, especially the homeless. It’s a wonderful book about what she’s doing with her life and what she does in her free time.”
Vukelja builds a relationship by talking with people who are homeless, caring for them and conveying that they need to learn from their situation as opposed to being stuck in it.
“Homeless people have a light inside of them; someone has to ignite that,” Vukelja said. Her book advises everyone to open up the light in themselves and “let it shine. The time to do something for someone else, large or small, is right now.”
Vukelja is raising funds to help build a church for people who are living at Hiway 80 Rescue Mission’s Triumph Village, a supportive housing and recovery option for people on Texas Highway 64 West. Proceeds from the sale of her new book will benefit the church project.
In addition, Vukelja works to raise awareness of homeless people. She empathizes with them because she and her mother were homeless for years when she was a child in communist Yugoslavia, which her book describes.
Vukelja assures people who are homeless here that she was once one of them.
Vukelja was 11 when she and her mother fled Yugoslavia and 21 when they arrived in New York, knowing no English. Her mother worked odd jobs. Much later, Vukelja served 17 years in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. While in the military, she finished medical school, an internship, a residency and a fellowship.
Vukelja and her husband moved to Tyler in 1996.