A doctor talks to a patient, with the doctor's speech bubble wrapping an arm around the patient's speech bubble. Both bubbles show stapled lacerations behind little heart shapes.

Using My Pain to Encourage My Patients

I'm a physician assistant and recently started working in an emergency department, and sometimes I am required to perform laceration repairs, which is a fancy way of saying putting stitches in a big cut.

My journey with DFSP

Every time I see a deep cut and a patient grimacing due to the pain, I am reminded of the immense pain I experienced for weeks while healing from my two surgeries to remove my rare form of skin cancer called dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP). Since I started working in the ER, I am constantly reminded of my journey with skin cancer.

A painful reminder

The first time I was reminded of my own painful journey with DFSP, I had a patient who came in to get staples removed. She had several staples in her thigh and in her arm from injuries she sustained in a car accident. She was so anxious about having the staples removed because she was afraid it would hurt. She asked me if it was going to hurt having the staples removed, and I remembered when I asked my surgeon the same question. He answered, “nope, it doesn’t hurt at all”. That was not exactly true! I can imagine he had never had staples removed to be able to properly answer that question.

I could relate to her

Since I had staples removed a few months prior to getting this question, I was able to tell her that her anxieties surrounding this simple bedside procedure were appropriate, that she was not crazy for asking this question, and that it is slightly painful and very uncomfortable to have staples removed. I was also able to talk her through the procedure, encourage her, and let her know that while this accident “tried” to kill her, her scars are an indication that she survived and had more life to live. That was a full-circle moment for me, to be able to use my pain for someone else’s encouragement.

I know this wasn't the last time this will happen

I know that there will continue to be moments that remind me of my life-altering experience with skin cancer, I can advocate for and encourage my patients because I know firsthand what they are going through. This allows me to be thankful for the experience to know and express empathy on a new level.

How do you use your experience with skin cancer to relate to others? Tell us in the comments

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