Explain A Patients Reaction To….

I look back on my life so far, and I ponder for a moment and wonder how I’ve got so far (yet also so far  to go). I reflect and think, yo, did that really happen? That was AMAZING! Or that was pretty horrific, why didn’t I see the difficulty at the time. Why was I such a dick, or why can’t I be as motivated as I was back then?

Tonight I’m writing this blog instead of doing revision for my last and hardest exam of Jan. I probably should be using my time much more wisely. I’m super tired and I feel like I should be asleep right now. I feel like my brain can’t take anymore information today – but it is indeed a revision past exam question which has made me want to write this post.

The said question in question is, “Explain a patients reaction to a cancer diagnosis.”  – it’s only worth 3 marks.

We’re taught that the patient can go through a myriad of reactions, and neither of them are time sensitive. They could happen instantly during the breaking news, during or months after treatment. We’re told that in the beginning most people are in denial, “There must be some sort of mistake?”  “Pretty sure that this is wrong, it’s not happening to me?!”  Some patients never stop being in denial, most come around. Guilt. Responsibility for others (What about my family/kids/parents what do I tell them?). Fight spirit. Depression. The options are really really endless. Everyone deals with everything in their own way.

This question brought back memories for me. I thought about when I first got told that it looked like I had a “Lymphoid Malignancy”.

Remember this? I bet you do:


I still – to this day – remember that day with crystal clear exactness that I’ve never experienced with any other memory.  I think its surreal-ness is what makes it stay with me.  And I think the above exam question – that the patient will also have the most crystal clear memory too.

Here’s my reaction to the above news. I feel like I want to share it, because I still – to this day – think about it daily. I think about how weird it was. Imagine being told you could have a fatal disease, 10000’s miles away from family & in the presence of your work boss? (My boss is now, as you can imagine,  1 of my closest friends). How disjoined my journey was afterwards. and the amass of emotion and questions that seems to have manifested itself into a whole new career venture. Pretty sure not every patients reaction to a cancer diagnosis is – I WILL BECOME A MEDICAL CANCER ZAPPER RADIOTHERAPIST RESEARCHER PERSON! But here’s part 1 of my crazy story.


After being asked what felt like a bazillion questions  such as, “You’re an artist, do you think you could have accidentally poisoned yourself with chemicals in your art materials?”, a super  thorough  physical  (much more attention to detail than we do in the UK) and some tests & bloodwork, I sat in an examination room with a pretty good looking doctor in a white lab coat (in America, Doctors really wear them – with their names on no less!?). I was wearing a broken gown, backwards. I felt really unprepared. I remember thinking that I wish I had shaved my legs better, not just up to the knee.

I was also sat in the room with the doctors colleague (who was also a qualified haematologist dr) who also happened to be a friend to my boss, and my boss from my American summer camp job.  I usually hate people going to the doctors with me. In fact I do all my doctor-y, hospital stuff alone. I don’t know why. I guess I don’t like people being present when I tell an almost stranger  about the real pain and symptoms I try to hide or down play in real life. I ultimately don’t like feeling vulnerable in front of others. But both – the doctor friend & my boss, asked if they could be present during my consultation and who was I to say no? After-all, it was them who made me go and who were paying for it.
So, here I am. With my boss, of all people, being told that it looks like cancer. I remember how the doctor built up to it. He gave me the positives first. My bloodwork looked pretty good, normal. My boss, sat behind him against the adjacent wall wearing a thick yatch-like-J-Crew meets Old Navy cardigan, but facing me, put 2 thumbs up in the air with an American style movie smile. I smiled back acknowledging. In my head, I was about to curse that I knew this was going to be a complete waste of EVERYONES time & money. That it was indeed a virus or just “all in my head”.

Then the doctor said,”… but it looks like Lymphoma… a cancer that effects mostly young people. It’s really treatable, and easy to fix. It’s just it could be time sensitive.  If it’s aggressive then we could have a problem.” I looked straight at my boss who had no clue how to react, thumbs still sort of mid air between celebratory and disbelief. I remember kind of swinging my legs under the chair like a child, sat on my hands. Feeling kind of shoulder shrugg-y.

The doctor recommended me to go straight home back to the UK and get it sorted (you know, cuz I wasn’t insured for Cancer. Bummer.) All 3 of us left the examination room, went in a lift and left the hospital without speaking a word.

The day was over-caste. It began with heavy rain. I was wearing my super cool raincoat with a picture of Colorado on the inside lining and my multicoloured grey H&M wool jumper.  My boss tried making me eat a breakfast burrito. I wasn’t hungry & I also had stolen 2 bananas from the dinning hall before we had left for Boston. I left the uneaten burrito in the car.

We leave the hospital grounds, get to the road near the parking-lot & make small talk about parking in Boston & payment for parking. My boss’s friend-doctor and my boss  wished each other good bye. I thanked the doctor guy. As soon as he was gone, as I watched the lift doors shut, my first words were – whilst staring at the bottons with floor numbers on in the lift in the car-park: “You know that I’m not going home, right?”
The shock of hearing that I might have something that could end my life – especially if time sensitive – was something my mind couldn’t really grasp. In denial didn’t even come close.  I’m not even sure that a “life”, as a seperate entity really exists. Maybe I’m a kid who lives with their mind racing ahead into tomorrow more than I should, but that night I couldn’t stop thinking about all the plans and dreams that I had that might never be.  I felt as if I had wasted huge amounts of time in my life, and that I had to have a second chance immediately.

I convinced my boss to divert our route via an artshop where I spent exactly $38.38 cents on a bunch of my fav drawing pens and sketchbooks – I also pretended to be a student for 10% off. Later on, we stopped off at a bookshop on our 3 hour drive back to camp. I mean, how could she deny a dying kid their last wishes? I bought a pretty great art magazine, and my boss bought me an iced-chai-tea-latte from Starbucks. We talked about pretty much everything else BUT my potential impending doom. When my boss brought it up, I was pretty blunt that I wasn’t going home.  She would say, “Well, I don’t know about that Sarah Smizz.” I would have no discussion about it. I felt like if I did have cancer, that another 6 weeks wouldn’t make much difference, and  if I didn’t have it, then what a waste of everything. And then that if I did have cancer I was going to endure some hardships  so I wanted to make sure that I had to live my life hard and fast. I thought that this, after all, could be my last summer in the USA. Ever. Last summer ever.

That was part 1.  Other posts reference my crazy disjointed journey of illness and let’s be honest, I will probably write about it again.

Fast-forward to right now. I think we have to live fast, stay lucky. Try to be better. Work harder. Always put family & friends first. Money is circulated. Time is spent. There’s never enough time to learn everything. oH-wEll. Mistakes are made. Lessons learnt. Collaboration is key. Always be ready for an opportunity even if it doesn’t arise. Ask for help when you need it. Sleep is GOD. Illness is a bitch. It will rob you of everything for a moment – whether it’s the flu, gastritis or cancer. Stay true. Smile. Be cliche. Instagram.Help others.

I’m left wondering if my story above would have got me 3 marks in my exam?

Published by smizz

Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

One thought on “Explain A Patients Reaction To….

  1. Here’s hoping you are amongst those who fight and win this battle. Mentally, it must be an uphill struggle but it is something worth fighting for! Good Luck!!

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