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5 Things Cancer Taught Me About Being a Doctor

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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.

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Thinkstock photo by Handini_Atmodiwiryo

Originally published: August 16, 2017
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