In case you ever wondered about the reality of modern cancer treatment:
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Much less an entire day of Monty Python-esque absurdity.
I'm behind on the Write every day in November challenge - but because of an exception that I would never have called ahead of time.
I found a lump in the area of my cancer surgery this morning.
It was, oh, I don't know, approximately 7:14. Roughly. I don't remember. But immediately my brain went into overdrive.
"Kevin, do you feel this bump?"
"Yup. Feels like a gribley." (That's our household word for dust bunnies, or fuzzy sweater pills. I don't know if this is a Britishism, or peculiar to wertperch. Ask him.)
Okay, Doctor's offices open at 9 am, I'll call both, and see who can get me in first. Of course, I'm commuting to work at 9 am, so I'm driving and listening to the heinous elevator music version of "Girl from Ipanema" while on hold. Endlessly.
I finally get through, and get an appointment to see my primary care doc at 1:30. Oncologist is out of the office, since its Friday. Grumble. I leave several (many) messages for his nurse, and she gets back to me after, oh, about 4 hours. N.b. Once you've been a cancer patient, you don't have "a" doctor. You have a "team". Mine consists of the primary care doc, fist of all. We adore her, and recommend her to everyone we know. Also add in a surgeon, an oncologist, and a radiation oncologist, who Kevin and I refer to as Dr. Vulcan. It's both a play on his name and commentary on what a true geek he is.
I pretend to work, but in the back of my mind I'm making plans. Recurrence is a reality that I don’t' dwell on all that much, but it is there in the back of my mind once in a while. I'm the sort of patient who wants to know everything I possibly can - I wade through papers that are written in Doctorese, because I want to know the original sources rather than the way the medical system interprets things. Medicine is far less cut and dried than they would like us to believe.
So I've read about what would happen next if I had a recurrence. More chemotherapy, but different drugs than the last time. Possibly a clinical trial. No more radiation unless it's a distant recurrence, because I've already maxed out the amount of radiation I can have locally. (We prefer not to give you skin cancer or lung cancer in the process of trying to cure your breast cancer.)
But I was surprisingly un-emotional. The only good thing to say about having been through the most brutal regiment of cancer treatment is that I got through it. (Second only to "I'm not dead yet!") I've done it once, I know can do it again if I have to.
So I head back the Davis at 1 pm, heading to see the doctor. She talks to me for about five minutes.
Her: "Can you go the Breast Imaging Center today?"
me: "Well, I just came from there, but I can drive back."
She goes out of the room.
She comes back in, says, "Why don't you go ahead down there. I have them on the phone, I'm making the appointment right now."
Me: "Uhm, okay. But I still need the referral information for lymphedema."
Her: "No, just go now, you can call me for that later."
I'm starting to get the impression she thinks this is even more urgent than I do.
She heads back out the door, I call after her: "Should I be panicking now?"
She shouts over her shoulder as she disappears down the hallway, "No, not at all." Why am I not flooded with reassurance?
So, sigh, I hop BACK in the car to drive BACK to Sacramento. Of course, they are squeezing me in, so I get to sit around. For quite some time. The entire room full of people waiting gets treated to one side of a conversation - gotta love those cell phones. A young woman in a wheelchair is loudly telling someone about a cruise she is about to go on, they way her boyfriend talks to her and her companion dog, and whether or not she's going to sleep with him on the cruise. Loudly. I don't know whether to laugh, vomit, or take notes
. Finally I can't stand it, and I interrupt her, and state that there is a sign on the door requesting that people not use cell phones in the waiting room. She gets pretty huffy, and then says, "Well, THEN I'll GO outside." First, does she not know everyone in the room was following the blow-by-blow, and second, am I to understand that I'm a philistine, because the rules don't apply to people in wheelchairs?
Anyway, in some bizarre fashion, she made my day, because the whole thing was so weird. Does she really not care that a roomful of strangers know about her to sleep with/not to sleep with dilemma?
But I digress.
So I switch from sitting in the public waiting room to the private waiting room, with all those poor nervous women getting mammograms. No one is cheerful. The Ellen (de Generis) Show was on, and again, I see so little TV that it also seems truly bizarre to me. Why is she making Sandra Bullock eat a habanero pepper? What deeper meaning does this have to an audience full of American Womanhood? My culture mystifies me.
So they FINALLY call my name. Being of course that this has all translated through several layers of medical beaurocracy, Things have gotting a wee bit scrambled. She tells me she's supposed to take a mammogram of my right breast. Having a strong grasp of the obvious, I explain that I don't HAVE a right breast. I thought they would just go ahead and do an ultrasound. She looks at me, looks at the order, goes out of the room. She comes back. Apparently she is supposed to go ahead and do the mammogram on whatever is left of my poor flesh. I then proceed to get the giggles as she attempts to do this. Imagine getting the flesh over your ribs caught in an elevator door. Several times. Now you have a decent idea of how it progressed.
Twenty minute wait. Yes, they still need to do an ultrasound. After a bit more poking and prodding, the tech finds something called a seroma - a little pocket of fluid that often happens in or near scar tissue. Nothing else. Nothing suspicious.
Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but remember that during the first round, every single test revealed more bad news. Not one tumor, but two. Not two lymph nodes, but several, we don't know how many. Et cetera, et cetera.
I hadn't realized how much I was assuming the worst and rolling with it, until they said, nope, nothing suspicious. That has never happened before.
So I went staggering home. I'm not dead yet!