05/15/2014 08:33 am ET | Updated Jul 15, 2014

5 Things Cancer Taught Me About Being a Doctor

In September of 2013, I noticed a lump on the side of my neck that 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:

5. Patients want to be normal.
All of us just want to be normal. When that is taken from you, you hunger and thirst for normalcy. 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!

4. 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. Suffering is an extremely big deal. Being chemo nauseous is awful. Pain and suffering needs to be eased immediately. It should be bared courageously by the patient, but it should 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 their suffering. Most people don't want to be patients -- because who wants to be sick?

2. You also have to treat the family.
When someone you love is sick, it's like you're sick. My family suffered through my illness perhaps worse than I did. Now that I know this -- I realize that I have a responsibility primarily to my patient but also to their family. Because in the end, everyone suffers together.

1. 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 my much later future. The truth is that without your health you don't have anything. All the money and fame in the world would be traded instantly for the chance to live and feel well again if you are on the edge of death. So don't squander your days, 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.

All the best,
-- Nikhil

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