The Walking Gallery: Cancer for Christmas


  • Caitlyn Allen Patient Safety Authority


 Jacket #160: “Cancer for Christmas”

Presents go hand in hand with the holiday season. Whether you receive an item from your wish list or during an office gift exchange, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the tradition. And if that new sweater doesn’t quite fit or you end up with a movie you already own, you can just return it with ease.

But that isn’t always the case. Five days before Christmas in 2007, Casey Quinlan got something she didn’t want nor could send back: breast cancer. Nonetheless, she considered it a gift. Rather than let the news cripple her, Quinlan decided to chronicle her experience—what questions she asked her doctors; their responses; and how she handled surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—to help others navigate the complex healthcare system.
“It’s like a car wash,” Quinlan says. “When you go to a car wash, do you want to be inside the car, or strapped to the hood? Ask questions, make sure you understand the answers—you get to stay inside the car. Otherwise, you get lots of soap and wax up your nose!”

Quinlan’s championing of being an active “healthcare industry customer” began long before her own diagnosis as she watched, and eventually helped, her parents battle their own illnesses.

Her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and pored through every research article he could find. He freely asked questions and joined the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Her mother overcame a pituitary tumor, surgery to remove it, and not least of all sexism; after several male physicians had chalked up her symptoms to menopause, she sought another opinion from a female surgeon, who correctly diagnosed her. Her mother’s steadfastness and willingness to question saved her life and taught Quinlan a valuable lesson: “Your health is your responsibility and you must ask questions and work to understand the answers.”

Thankfully, today Quinlan is in remission, and continuing her work as a patient advocate.To learn more about Quinlan’s work, check out her blog at

Quinlan’s parents, Betty and Mike Casey, taught her from an early age the importance of self-advocacy as she watched them battle misdiagnoses, Parkinson’s disease, and a hip replacement. She has leveraged this grit and tenacity in her career as a patient advocate; one of Quinlan’s myriad accomplishments is serving as a charter author for Patients Included™—a movement to engage patients in academic literature and healthcare conferences.

Christmas garland with a red ornament.



How to Cite

Allen, C. . (2019). The Walking Gallery: Cancer for Christmas. Patient Safety, 1(2), 88–89. Retrieved from
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