Wednesday, January 4, 2012


"I was a success story - for the moment. But if I got sick again, I would no longer be a success story, and the truth was, at times I was still as scared and anxious as a patient. What if the cancer came back? Each time I visited a hospital I had an uneasy reaction. The first thing that struck me was the smell. If I did a smell test I could find a hospital with my eyes closed: disinfectant, medicine, bad cafeteria food, and recycled air through old vents, stale and artificial. And the lighting: a leaky radiant, it made everyone look pale, like they didn't have quite enough blood in their bodies. The sounds were artificial and grating: the squeak of the nurses' rubber-soled shoes, the sound of the hospital mattresses. A hospital mattress is covered with plastic, and I remembered how it felt and sounded as I shifted in the bed, the crackle of the covering beneath me, every time I moved, crackle, crackle, wrinkle, wrinkle.

These are the odors and sensations and images that all cancer patients carry with them no matter how far removed they are from the disease, and they are so traumatic, so concentrated, that they can bring about reactions years afterward.

Some people even get physically ill when they encounter sights or smells that remind them of illness. There was a story in the New England Journal of Medicine: a woman was treated for breast cancer with very arduous chemo, and she suffered violent bouts of nausea. Five years later, she was walking in a mall when she ran into her oncologist, the doctor who had treated her. She threw up. So that's how cancer stays with you. And it has stayed with me."

- Lance Armstrong, "Every Second Counts"

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