Dear Doctor (An Open Letter From a SURVIVOR)

04/26/2021 By Jessica Bolz

Dear Doctor (an open letter from a survivor),

You don’t know me.

Yes, you’ve read through my medical records, and I suppose you have been shocked, amazed, overwhelmed or rolled your eyes at the immensity of my profile and how difficult it will be to have me as your patient. But you are seeing the diagnosis I’ve had. You are looking at my pathology reports. You have noted all my surgeries and my late-term side effects from my four bouts with cancer.

But you don’t know who I am.

You don’t know how hard I’ve fought and the fears I have had and the many glorious moments I’ve been grateful for nor do you realize the tremendous anxiety I have gone through after endless biopsies and cat scans and blood tests.

You don’t know me.

You assume that I should just be grateful that I survived. You don’t know that with survivorship comes tremendous overpowering stress. With survivorship, you learn to live a very different life, one that can be moment to moment, event to event, doctor appointment to doctor appointment. Maybe I will have three months where I can truly live in the regular world that other humans who haven’t had a life-threatening disease live; being somewhat carefree and not afraid of seeing a lab coat or a message from my doctor on my answering machine.

You don’t know me.

When I enter your office you come in with my paperwork in hand. You are astute at your craft. But you don’t know how to talk to me. I am a survivor but contrary to your belief “ you’ve been through this before so you should be used to it by now”, you are wrong. Every visit, every test, every “talk” I become warier. Yes, I am thankful for life but my life is precarious, I walk on a pond that has a thin veil of ice over it. I’m unsure if any step I take will make me fall through and into the murky water.

You don’t know me.

When you share, “You’re one of the lucky ones, my cousin had Hodgkin’s disease, and her ovaries were fried from the radiation,” this isn’t something to joke about or light-hearted humor.

You don’t know me.

Giving me pity and saying, “You poor thing, I don’t know how you do it,” isn’t what I want to hear as I sit trembling on the exam table waiting for the doctor coming in.

You don’t know me.

Hearing you tell me that,“If it was me, I would have probably given up a long time ago,” makes me feel like a freak and that my fight in your eyes wasn’t worth it.

You don’t know me.

When you approach me but don’t recognize my pain emotionally you are not being a quality clinician to me so please don’t share with me that you are “doing your best.”

You don’t know me.

When you enter the room with my life on paper and say, “Wow, this is like War and Peace,” you make me feel guilty for my survivorship.

You don’t know me.

So please Dear Doctor, when you take me on as your patient think a little more about what a SURVIVOR goes through; what it truly means to be a survivor. Your words towards us as a patient should have the same strength in them that we as survivors have to continue with on our journey.

You don’t know me, but I’d like you to.

Sincerely,

A Cancer Survivor

Update as of 7/13/2022:

Jessica “Jet” Bolz is a former competitive swimmer who was 11 years old when she fought her first cancer battle, diagnosed in 1984 with stage 2A Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A relapse of the disease three months after initial treatment and two subsequent primary breast cancers caused by the radiation treatment to treat the lymphoma at age 25 and then at 33, she has spent much of her 36 years of survivorship as an advocate for treatments and cure and a source of hope for the clients she works with as a water fitness trainer and therapy aide (with Jetwaterfitness LLC). Instilling the idea that every moment counts, having an attitude of gratitude, and the belief that “YOU CAN” is her main objective. You can connect to Jessica on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

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