As a cancer patient, I felt dismissed by doctors. As a doctor, I am desperate for the system to change

When Ben Bravery began studying medicine after surviving bowel cancer he found something missing from the curriculum – patients

The young patient sitting across from me is no longer calm. His left hand is clenched in a fist, his right one is shaking. Red blotches have broken out on his neck.

“Why am I sick?” he asks.

This isn’t the first time he’s asked this question. The doctors and nurses looking after him have each answered, sharing what we understand about the causes of his illness and his risk factors. But his question isn’t a technical one, it’s bigger than that.

He resents being ill, he detests being different.

His diagnosis feels unfair. He wants to be studying music, sending pictures to friends, falling in love. Instead, he is in hospital having his treatment for a chronic disease optimised while doctors, me included, monitor him for medication side-effects.

He feels like the diagnosis has taken over his life.

I know this feeling. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in my 20s. I had no family history and, apart from cancer, was otherwise fit and healthy. I was building a business in Beijing and was in a new relationship.

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