As an architect with a focus on healthcare often, it’s not unusual to receive calls from medical professionals during my workday—except on a day in 2016 when my primary care physician called to follow-up on a recent visit and asked if I could take the call from a private room. On that day, I received the news that there was a high likelihood I had cancer.

For a few weeks after the initial call, I went through a range of tests to narrow down the cancer type. There was a chance it could be one of four types and I ended up being diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Six months of chemotherapy was protocol for fighting this cancer, using a combination of four different drugs, and I began visits every two weeks for a total of 12 visits to my local cancer center.

Having previously designed both inpatient and outpatient infusion areas and going through the design process of arranging the sequence of spaces with the medical staff gave me an understanding of infusion areas. Going through treatment in these spaces, however, brought a new level of awareness and understanding of the patient experience and a renewed respect for the medical staff and the care they provide. It also became apparent to me how significant both path and place are during treatment.

My visits began at the entrance of the cancer center and went through the usual sequence of check-in; waiting room where I completed a health survey; lab for blood draw; exam room to meet with the oncologist; infusion area to begin the infusion session; and finally exiting.

Mapping this flow is important. The cancer center I visited has been in operation for several decades and the circuitous path I took during each visit was interrupted a few times by intersecting corridors. For a cancer patient who may be in a compromised state, a disjointed path can lead to stress or confusion. It’s also important to simplify the exit path so that patients dosed up on chemotherapy have a clear and obvious path out the door.

During my treatments, it also became clear to me the importance of the infusion room and having access to a range of room options. There were some days during infusion when I was placed next to another patient in the open bay setting. The impromptu discussion with my neighbor created a unique bond that neither of us had wished for but had to deal with nonetheless. My experience of receiving chemotherapy in a mostly open-bay setting was positive overall, primarily due to the wonderful staff at Blue Ridge Cancer Care, along with the conversations with other cancer patients.

But that’s not to say every visit to the infusion center would create this ideal outcome. Certainly, there were days as a patient when simply reading my book, listening to music, or observing the scenes of the infusion center or outside were enough. Personal energy evaporates as the chemotherapy medication kicks in and having a private place to drift off to sleep has its benefits.

Patients’ ability to select the type of infusion environment and then have control over aspects within the environment took on new meaning during my 12 rounds of chemotherapy. I realized how important it can be to adjust such features as the lights and the TV.

My journey as a cancer patient and now survivor (My one-year anniversary scan showed no signs of cancer!) has deepened my empathy for the patient experience, which helps inform my design process. The uncertainty and physical challenges that come as part of cancer treatment can be staggering at times. My journey as a cancer patient has renewed my approach toward creating spaces that support clarity in use while striving for a calm and serene atmosphere for both patient and staff.

Daniel DiMarco, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, EDAC, Six Sigma Green Belt, is associate principal, healthcare studio manager at AECOM (Roanoke, Va.) He can be reached at daniel.dimarco@aecom.com.

For more on DiMarco and his work, read his Face Time interview here or check out Healthcare Design’s February 2018 issue.