I Was Lucky My Doctor Took My Health Concerns Seriously
One night in late March 2015, I was sitting in the back room of a closed urgent care office. “I’m sorry…did you say, oncologist?” The doctor just nodded, saying my blood work was a little “off” and they had found some lumps in my neck. “It could be nothing, but we have a room waiting for you at the hospital for further observation,” he continued.
“Couldn’t it be, I don’t know, mono? Why do you think it’s cancer?” I instinctively stood up. I remember his chair being closer to the door, as if blocking me in.
He couldn’t stop me from leaving, but I just knew. He wouldn’t put in the effort of moving his chair if it wasn’t serious. I was thinking of running, I just needed to move or something. I needed to make sure this was real. I felt numb, dazed. Things felt static and hazy.
Others have experienced their doctors finding similar things, but they were told that they were “too young.” They would have been given antibiotics and sent on their way home. But this doctor was determined for me to actually receive all the care that was accessible to me.
So I took a deep breath, smiled, and said “Okay…uh, do you mind if I drive there?"
The doctor told me that I could drive, my name was already in the system, and a room was ready for me.
As soon as I walked to my car, I burst into tears. I called my dad and cried. I texted my friend while still crying. I didn’t know what to think anymore, about anything. I was terrified.
Driving through Boston in the middle of the night felt strange. I walked into the welcome lobby of on of Boston’s many well-established hospitals, shaking like a leaf.
“Hey…. I am checking into a room.”
I could barely keep myself together to say that sentence. The receptionist smiled and told me where to go directing me toward the elevator. I gripped my backpack tightly in one hand, car keys in the other, using both to keep me grounded as I headed toward my hospital room.
“This is mono,” I reminded myself, “This is going to be something I laugh about when I graduate soon and go on that beach trip with my friends.”
I ended up staying in the hospital for a week after they found spots in my chest. After my initial biopsy, they found further abnormal cells and decided to do a PET/CT. I lit up like a Christmas tree on the scan in my chest and neck. The doctors also showed me a nice-sized tumor growing behind my heart.
“If that got a little bigger…you may not be here right now.” My new specialist and new hematologist both told me. I could only stare at the screen.
The next day was filled with signing papers and viewing my treatment plan. They started me on a chemo regimen immediately.
When my friend visited me, we played Uno together. She shared stories about her night out with our mutual college friends, I shared stories about what the doctors had told me in the hospital that week. I cried. She hugged me.
Overall, I was one of the lucky ones. I was lucky that my initial urgent care test results weren’t overlooked. I was lucky that I was taken seriously; my health and age not being marked against me. That urgent care doctor could have told me that it was just mono and that I should go home, just like so many others were told by their doctors.
I could have collapsed on the floor when the tumor pressed against my heart one day. By the time I’d reached that point, how far would the cancer have spread? How big would my tumors have been?
I was lucky to start treatment sooner rather than later. I was lucky that the doctor made his body language clear that night to tell me not to walk out the door of his office. But I shouldn’t be lucky. I should be the norm. My cancer friends and peers should have received the same level of care from their doctors.
September is a major cancer awareness month for several different types of cancers, mine included. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Many in the blood cancer community have horror stories of being ignored by their doctors. Being told their concerns are nothing, they’re fine, it’s anxiety, they’re too young to have cancer. How horrible is that? To be ignored by a professional when you know something is wrong.
To those doctors who hurt our community.
Don’t ignore your patients' concerns. Take your patients’ pain seriously. Do the blood work and run the scans. Don’t let my positive care experience be a rare case. I don’t want to be the anomaly, I want to be the norm.
To my peers in the cancer community.
I’m sorry. This sucks. Fuck cancer. You know your body, and I’m sorry that you were ignored for so long. Please continue advocating for yourself, because the more we advocate, the better things become for us all.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.