Cancer Misdiagnosis: If I had a nickel….

… for every email I’ve received from friends, web visitors, blog readers, radio listeners regarding the man in England named John who was misdiagnosed with cancer, spent all his money, then found out he had no cancer afterall…

Yes — the misdiagnosis story is my story, too, minus two major points: I didn’t spend all my money, and I didn’t sue the hospital.

Google provides links to (as of this blog post) 186 publications that carried the news. I watched the report myself on both Good Morning America and the Today Show. The short version is that John was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, told he had only six months to live, and found out after several months that he had no cancer at all. Because he had spent all his money, and run up his credit cards past their limits, he is now suing the hospital that provided the wrong diagnosis.

My questions: which part of the story is so fascinating? the misdiagnosis? the spent money? the lawsuit? And what will be the takeaway by readers and viewers? Here are my thoughts:

When interviewed, John was asked whether he was angry, and he replied that yes, he was. In my own experience, I was SO angry — so VERY angry — and I know that was difficult for many to understand. Being told you will die within months turns your life around 180 degrees. The torment and turmoil is devastating. Then, later being told that “oops!” they made a mistake — and you will be fine afterall…. at the point where you should be elated, and your reality must turn back around 180 degrees again… you just can’t let go of the fury! Until…. as that new reality begins to sink in….

Revenge comes next, and that’s where John’s lawsuit has him. I read recently that the revenge center of the brain is among the most “pleasurable” — that when that part of the brain is stimulated, it is almost as satisfying as the taste of chocolate or the elation of new love, or the acme of good sex. I don’t know if that’s true! But I can tell you that ever since I decided to turn my “revenge” into helping other patients, it has been beyond satisfying. Every day I get to wake up, do my writing or interviewing or presenting, and know I’m having a very positive influence on someone else’s life. Honestly — that kind of revenge is TRULY sweet.

And yes, for the handful of pathologists and oncologists who had a role in my misdiagnosis — I hope when they see my face in the newspaper, or hear my voice on the radio, or see notices about my presentations, they suffer a jolt of guilt when they do. Fine by me. It keeps them on their toes and may prevent the next misdiagnosis from happening.

Beyond the revenge — and perhaps the place John has not yet found himself — is the point when you realize that such a horrible experience has truly become the biggest blessing of your life…. yes….

My cancer misdiagnosis was the biggest blessing of my life.

The reasons are many. I am a changed person in many ways. My death-is-imminent diagnosis made me pause, and that gave me the opportunity to reassess and realign my priorities, focus on how to make sure my loved ones know how much I love them, learn to smell the roses, take time for ME, and gave me the strength to take some risks I had not previously been able to take.

The proof? I talk to my father and my daughters, all of whom live out of town, several times each week. I sold my marketing business, changed careers, established and to help others advocate for themselves, too. I learned to shut down the computer to take some Trisha Time evenings and weekends. And after 18 years of being single after divorce, I let myself fall in love — and even get married! Now THAT’s a risk, right? !!

Many people have asked me why I didn’t sue, by the way. I did talk to a lawyer and was told that in New York State where I live, in order to prevail in a lawsuit, one must show physical harm. Since I refused chemo, I was never physically harmed. Evidently emotional and mental anguish don’t count, at least in New York State. Regardless, even if there was a possibility of succeeding with a lawsuit, I never would have followed through. I think some lawsuits have their places, but not this one. If I had ever suffered through chemo?… hmm…..

More importantly though — the takeaways I would wish for John and YOU?

For John, I hope he can get beyond his revenge. Either that, or I hope he can turn his revenge into a way to help others because it is SO very positive and SO very sweet.

For John, too, I hope he can realize that every does happen for a reason. He needs to figure out what the reason was for his circumstance — and then he needs to figure out how to make the best of that reason.

And for you, my readers? Sharp patients know to GET A SECOND OPINION — and to pull out all the stops to learn everything they can about difficult and deadly diagnoses! Had John done so, he would have figured out, like I did, that his test results were misread, and he didn’t really have cancer.

… and I would have had to think of something else to blog about today. 🙂

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Trisha Torrey
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