Voices of the NIH Community

“I felt like a double agent”

Lisa Horowitz talks with her brother, David Horowitz, about what it was like having lymphoma and then a stem cell transplant at the NIH while, at the same time, working there as a psychologist treating cancer patients. 

Lisa is the founder of Swab a Cheek, Save a Life, which recruits and educates minority bone-marrow donors. 


Lisa Horowitz: My first introduction to NIH was coming here as a patient and I met Dr. Wyndham Wilson. And I could tell he was very smart and he knew everything there was to know about lymphoma and I put my confidence immediately in him. And then the funny thing was, a week later, after I came here as a patient, I had to start my job NIH. So I felt like a double agent, like I was an undercover cancer patient working in the Clinical Center as a psychologist who was going to see cancer patients and evaluate them for mental health concerns.

David Horowitz: Tell me about your first day.

Lisa Horowitz: I was working for this wonderful boss at the Clinical Center, Don Rosenstein, and he said, “Lisa, I’m going to take you on my first consult today. It’s a cancer patient; it’s a lymphoma patient.” He didn’t know I had lymphoma and he said, “We’re going to meet Dr. Wilson and we’re going to do a consult on one of Dr. Wilson’s patients.” And I must have just gone white. And I remember that like, oh my God, I’m going to meet Dr. Wilson as…

David Horowitz: Who you’ve already met.

Lisa Horowitz: …who I already met as a patient and I’m going to meet him now as a psychologist, as a provider. And is he going to give my story away, what was he going to do? And I remember, he just shook my hand, and he said, “Nice to meet you.” And he didn’t give anything away.

David Horowitz: Played it real cool.

Lisa Horowitz: But I had to see one of his lymphoma patients, who was needing a transplant. So, it was a difficult time. 

One day I had to get treated, because my tumors were growing and I went up to the 12th floor, which is the Oncology Floor here at the Clinical Center and many nurses from the National Cancer Institute were up there and I had just seen a patient with my white coat on and then I showed back up at 3 o’clock without my white coat and they said, “Oh, Dr. Horowitz, nice to see you.” And I said, “I am your 3 o’clock patient.” And that was really hard. 

The code was, when I wore my white coat I was working and when I wasn’t wearing my white coat I wasn’t working. 

David Horowitz: And now you come to work every day and you deal with these people…

Lisa Horowitz: Yeah.

David Horowitz: …that are getting transplants.

Lisa Horowitz: Yes.

David Horowitz: Do you, like, say, “I went through it or does it…”

Lisa Horowitz: So I never say I had my own transplant, but I think when I’m listening and when I’m nodding and hearing their story – because their story’s different than my story — I think I convey a knowing that I could never do in words by telling them I had a transplant. But I think when I say, “yeah, that sounds really hard to go through what you’re going through,” in my heart I know I know what that’s like and I think I’m able to convey that. I’m grateful that I could work here at NIH because I feel like I could give back like that, every day. 

This page last reviewed on February 27, 2023