Diagnose Yourself With Not Cancer

First, diagnose yourself with a heroin addiction. You’ve been itchy for days, in places you’ve never itched: your earlobes, heels, the palms of your hands. You read about this once in the New Yorker. A woman going through withdrawal scratched all the way through to her brain trying to relieve the itch in her skull. Plan your reaction for when the Intervention producers say they’d like you to participate in a documentary about addiction. Remember you don’t actually do drugs. Rule out heroin addiction.

Diagnose yourself with a rhomboid major muscle tear. The soreness in your back must have been a result of a particularly strenuous elliptical workout. Tone down the gym attendance. Head to a sports masseuse. A pulled muscle isn’t the end of the world, but when else will you be able to justify a sports massage? Impress the masseuse with your knowledge of anatomy until you mistakenly refer to your shoulder blade as your clavicle. Believe him when he claims he’s cured you.

Diagnose yourself with hyperthyroidism. Wake up soaked in your own sweat. Shed your clothes. Change your sheets. Curse your thyroid. By morning, forget all about your overactive gland.

Think you’re getting better. Then, think maybe you’re getting worse.

Ask your friends to feel the lump in your neck. Pretend it’s not the kiss of death when they shrug and say “I’m no doctor” and “it’s probably nothing?” Describe the swelling to your parents. When they say “it’s the size of a golf ball?” revise your estimate to cumquat. When they ask what the hell a cumquat is, say it’s the size of walnut.

Locate a second lump, then notice a third, under your arm. Diagnose yourself with mono. You’ve reviewed every map of the lymphatic system Google Images could supply and can conclusively say that these are swollen nodes. Feel sorry for yourself. The last thing you need right now is mono.

Walk into a walk-in clinic. Downplay your symptoms. The lumps don’t even hurt! (Bad sign.) The night sweats could be because of your new down comforter! That thing is like an oven! Ask the doctor if there’s any chance it’s mono. An infection. If he’s really sure it’s not mono. Change the subject after you see the photo of his family. Then change back, catching him off-guard with another question. Just don’t ask, “Should I be worried?” Don’t ask if he’s ever seen anything like this before.

After the surgical biopsy, inspect the node they removed. Say “cumquat, definitely cumquat.”

All stitched up, in the recovery room, don’t start thinking “I have cancer I have cancer I have cancer” over and over. When the nurse says, ”Why are you crying? It’s over,” don’t say “For me, this is just the beginning.” No need for theatrics. TC mark

image – The Unseasoned Wok


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  • JustHere

    This is all too real of a story. I told myself I had sore gums, I had the flu, I was just stressed, and that fevers of 102 were not a big deal. Getting sick on the floor of my dorm’s bathroom I thought I had a stomach bug, the red parts were probably just from something I had eaten and not blood. That night I fainted in the shower. I had people find me in the shower and I said I couldn’t go to the hospital because of my Communications midterm the next day. I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. If you wrote this about your own personal experience I truly hope everything goes as well as it can for you.

  • Paiger

    What a cool story. I love the writer’s interesting, beautiful, and frightening perspective of self-diagnosing her own cancer. I hope your journey is going well Ms. Johnsmeyer!

  • Katie

    Just finished up my treatments for hodgkins.. pretty much had the exact same stream of consciousness…hope you’re doing well!  Feels much  better when most of it’s behind you

  • Angela

    I enjoyed reading this post. I just finished my stem cell treatment 6 months ago for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Still in recovery though. I sure hope everything is well with you! :-)

  • Nelljohns

    This article shows how scary life can be….deep down you know when it’s all going wrong.  Thanks for giving the bad news a little heart….

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