Are You a Patient Patient?

I recently read a book called The Patient Patient. With a title like that, I expected a self-help book of sorts for people undergoing medical treatment. It would certainly be the perfect title for a how-to manual for people living with cancer who are often challenged by long and difficult medical waits, tests, and procedures.

Instead, the book told the true story of a young teenager who underwent treatment for bone cancer. The author, Tushar Rishi, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 14 in India. Rishi was forced to miss a year of schooling to endure a year of grueling treatments in cancer clinics and hospitals in Dehli, where politics and waiting times are much different than in the United States.

Rishi cleverly capitalized on the double meaning of the word patient for the title of his book.

As a verb, patient is defined as:1

1: bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint

2: manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain

3: not hasty or impetuous

4: steadfast despite opposition, difficulty or adversity

As a noun, patient is defined as:1

an individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment.

After reading the book, I was more grateful than ever for the timely and high-quality medical care I’ve received thus far. But I wonder how I would have fared at a younger age or in a country such as India, where patients wait overnight just for blood tests the next day.

Am I really a patient patient? Are you? I recently posed this question on Twitter and received a variety of responses. The overwhelming majority said no. And yes.

We are less patient in general

Since our diagnoses, we’ve understood that ‘life is short’ in a new and significant way. We are less patient with things that don’t matter, with people that refuse to understand, and with everything that wastes our precious time.

As one person said, “I have very little patience. If I say get to a store and there are queues then I walk out. I'd rather do without than waste what little time I have left waiting.”

Another said, “Less patience for sure. I speak my mind now and stand up for myself or others when I feel something is wrong. It's like I have something that turned on after cancer that says eff it, what the hell- let's see what happens.”

We are more patient when we need to be

By the same token, life IS short, and we don’t want to waste our time by being impatient and angry. So we have become champions of waiting. We wait in waiting rooms, for test results, and in chemo chairs. And we wait for better days and for side effects to pass.

One person said she is “Absolutely more patient. Especially at the doctor’s. There’s no hierarchy in the waiting room at the cancer center.” And another agreed, saying he was “Definitely more patient. Sitting for a 4 to 5-hour infusion does that for you. I figure that getting all worked up doesn’t do much good."

We are both more and less patient

But the majority of people responded that they were both more and less patient. One person wrote that he was “Definitely more patient and willing to let go of the small things. My biggest struggle with patience is with the bigger things. I worry that I will run out of time to do them even though my treatments worked."

Another replied, “I’m more patient with doctors and nurses and medical people in general. But I have WAY less patience for bullsh*t and indecision from friends and family."

Being a patient requires patience

There is no way around it. Having a blood cancer diagnosis requires the patience of a saint at times. But patience is more than just waiting.

It’s prioritizing our health and our time, while keeping a healthy attitude and realizing that sometimes things just need to unfold on their own schedule. It’s tapping into our inner calm and strength as we insist on surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people. Patience is the presence of mind that we can hold onto while we are fervently advocating for our care and our rights.

As Rishi says so perfectly, "In English, the word 'patient' has two meanings, and cancer tests you on both of them."

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