“I am scared I have leukemia” could Google be wrong?

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Anxious, worried woman with glasses looks straight at camera. She has dark short hair and wears glasses and a white t-shirt. She is thinking to herself:

“I am scared I have leukemia” could Google be wrong?

Scared you have leukemia? This is what ran through Sarah Leiber’s mind as she checked her symptoms online. Was it cancer? Was it leukemia or something else?

This story of how I discovered I was mentally ill began when I came home from rehearsal, exhausted and unprepared. It begins with one thought: ‘My self-diagnosis is bad…I am scared I have leukemia.’

It is difficult to maintain a sustainable homework schedule when you are in a show, and a music group and they both rehearse for hours and hours, back to back, and it’s doubly hard when your very first scene in Acting I is the next morning, and you are unsure whether or not you should be an actor in the first place. And this is for a million reasons–you’ve watched your professor berate and belittle your classmates and you know that tomorrow is your turn to be publicly chewed out for not understanding your objective, or for not breathing correctly, or for remaining too emotionally constrained.

You’re also kind of worried that your classmates are going to look at you and realize you have no idea what you’re doing and they’re going to pity you, or they’re not going to pity you and you’ll be labeled as the Worst Actor in the Class of 2019 for the rest of your college experience.

I’m also kind of worried about crying in front of everyone, which is not about the act of crying so much as it is about looking ugly when it happens– that is to say, I do not fear sadness, but I fear accessible sadness that people can see and ask me about.

This leads me to examine my body in the mirror. My health hasn’t been great. I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep and it shows in the golf ball-sized, bruise-y, disgustingly out-of-vogue bags that take up half of my face.

I see a person who is sick, which further reveals itself in a cluster of actual deep purple bruises on each of my legs. There is one on my left elbow. There is one on my right thigh.I am confused because I don’t feel like I’ve been participating in enough physical activity to have earned these bruises. Something about them makes me very uneasy, so I turn to the internet in what is probably the single most misguided decision I will make in my life.

I am scared I have leukemia: WebMD says I am right

It feels like the ultimate valid truth–it was the first thing to pop up under “unexplained bruises on legs” and it explains why I have been feeling so unhealthy for weeks and weeks and weeks. I venture further and further into the disease, finally landing on an article with a slideshow about early symptoms that often go undetected.

I have, it seems, every single one of the symptoms on that list. This is where my brain starts moving at a hundred miles a second. I am seriously scared I have leukemia. My self-diagnosis is bad.

i’m absolutely not strong enough to survive cancer.

physically or emotionally or spiritually. really.

i can’t do it.

maybe i should just kill myself tonight to get it all over with.

maybe i should call my parents.

maybe i should let my friends know that they should start stockpiling magazines so they won’t get bored when they visit me in the hospital

but who’s going to visit me?

no one cares that i have cancer.

maybe i should just not tell anyone and not go on treatments and just die quietly.

no one’s going to come to my funeral.

no one will cry.

no one will write me messages on facebook commemorating my life because i will not be considered gone-too-soon because i’ve already wrought 19 years of havoc on the world and

it’d be more of a good-riddance-to-bad-sarah. 

Somewhere in there, I end up on the floor of my bedroom, unable to breathe, with my roommate standing over me calling campus safety and my other suitemate holding both my hand and a glass of water next to my face.

Convinced I had leukemia: instead I discovered I was mentally ill

I am so scared I have leukemia, I end up at the hospital that night. The entire time, my organs squeeze into an uncomfortable, pulsating mass that confirms I am still alive.

How can anybody breathe when their lungs are in their stomach and their stomach is in knots?

My insides don’t readjust themselves until the doctor comes in and tells me

my blood and urine tests are completely normal 

and i do not have to worry about cancer 

and, by the way, here’s a prescription for a medication to take when i get anxious like this again

and maybe i should see a psychiatrist 

because my physical/emotional symptoms align with panic disorder

and also anxiety and depression

and bipolar

and a whole molotov cocktail of other super fun mental health malady

My entrance to the world of prescription drugs for mental illness is not of my own free will. It happens because I struggle so hard and so well that the doctor has to commend my work and give me a trophy in the form of a tiny physical THING that, somehow, will reconnect all of the missed connections in my brain.

I go to the hospital that night attempting to validate one sickness and leave with validation of another–one that’s just as malignant, if not as immediately deadly.

Article by
Sarah Jae Leiber

Sarah Jae Leiber is a playwright, singer, dramaturg, actor, and bipolar person from just outside of Philadelphia, PA


My webMD self-diagnosis is Leukemia. It feels like the ultimate valid truth--it was the first thing to pop up under "unexplained bruises on legs". | Photo credit: ©Wayhome Studio / Adobe Stock