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Personal Views

The sharp edge of Damocles

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 30 January 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:339
  1. Mary Self, psychiatric senior house officer.
  1. Cardiff

    Cicero tells of a courtier named Damocles, invited to a banquet hosted by the emperor Dionysius, who requests that Damocles is seated beneath a sword suspended from the ceiling by a single horse hair. Initial delight at being placed in the seat of honour turns sour when Damocles realises the ever present threat of untimely death.

    I was fascinated to hear the term “Damocles syndrome” used to describe the psychosocial stresses experienced by survivors of childhood cancer. No story could more accurately describe the legacy of overcoming the original diagnosis.

    There was no formal psychological support… where I was treated

    Sixteen years ago I developed an osteosarcoma of my femur and underwent an above knee amputation and a prolonged course of chemotherapy. I was 16 at the time and hoping to become a doctor. My life was irrevocably changed by this experience—not as you might suppose for the worse. I have experienced an intensity of life that I do not regret, in living each day as if it were my …

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