5 Things Cancer Taught Me About Being a Doctor


In September of 2013 I noticed a lump on the side of my neck I had been watching for six months was growing. After going through the differential diagnosis in my head, seeing two physicians and getting a biopsy… ding ding ding…. I had cancer. Stage 2A Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The journey from being a physician to being a patient changed me forever and taught me the following five things:

1. Patients want normalcy.

Many of us just want a sense of normalcy. When that is taken from you, you hunger and thirst for it. Your life becomes strange as a cancer patient; all your freedoms are curtailed in the name of your safety. No longer can you carouse about as you once did.

And a kid with a runny nose? Forget about it. I still have nightmares that consist of people just coughing in close vicinity to me. My greatest act of defiance was eating a slice of pizza from a local joint, throwing sanitation and caution to the wind. And let me tell you,  even if that pizza had sent me to the emergency room with gastroenteritis, it would still have been worth it!

2. We don’t know what it’s like.

I used to hear things like, “Mr. So and So is nauseous,” and I’d give an order for Gravol and think it wasn’t a big deal. Well you know what — it is. Experiencing this is an extremely big deal. Being chemo nauseous is awful. The pain needs to be eased immediately. It should be bared courageously by the patient, but it should also be eased immediately.

3. Being a patient is the worst.

I went from being a physician to being a patient. And even though I was cared for excellently, it was still a terrible experience. The difference was stark and I didn’t care for it. I’ll always remember that it’s wonderful to help someone who is ill, and while people may be grateful, they are preoccupied with what they are going through. Most people don’t want to be patients — because who wants to be sick?

4. You also have to treat the family.

When someone you love is sick it’s like you’re sick. My family experienced just as much through my illness — perhaps worse — than I did. Now that I know this I realize I have a responsibility, primarily to my patient, but also to their family. Because in the end, everyone goes through this together.

5. Your health is the most important thing in the world.

Before I was diagnosed I had to say I was a bit reckless about my health. I assumed it was something that would always remain. I figured any problems in my body would happen in the much later future. The truth is: without your health you don’t have anything. For me, all the money and fame in the world would have been traded instantly for the chance to live and feel well again when I felt on the edge of death. So don’t squander your days and don’t neglect your health because you really don’t know if and when things are going to change.

Live today brilliantly because tomorrow is not promised.

This post was originally published on HuffPost.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Handini_Atmodiwiryo


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Lymphoma - Hodgkin

woman with cancer in hospital bed

How My Body Became a Stranger During Cancer Treatment

“I’m going to tattoo you now, and this will be permanent.” No, the speaker wasn’t a tattoo artist with a penchant for stating the obvious; she was a radiation oncology tech. And what she was telling me was completely routine and something I had been prepared for  —  supposedly. Yet everything about the situation surprised [...]
woman smiling in spring weather

A Cancer Survivor Turns 30

Growing up, my imagination was easily captured by historical fiction and fantasy books, by the idea of living in a world very different from the one I was born into. Take away modern conveniences, my reasoning went, and I’d find myself somewhere more wondrous, with more room for adventure and self-discovery. My world was too [...]
man reflecting at perfect sunset

Life Lessons I Learned About Cancer from My Friend, Mr. Hodgkin

Last Friday morning I woke up and drove myself to Brighton Medical for an appointment whose results of could change my life forever. Positive or negative, the results will be a cornerstone in my life. If the results say there is no residual disease setting up camp in my body, then I get off the cancer [...]
Man holding another man's hand in sympathetic, consoling gesture

3 Things to Remember When a Loved One Has Cancer

When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. These changes can create such a whirlwind, we might no longer know which way to turn. There is no 12-step program or list of bullet points to “fix” the journey of a loved one with cancer. However, in my experience of walking alongside a dad [...]