Saturday, April 24, 2010

Monday would have been soon enough....

When walking through the airport last week, I overheard a phone call between a doctor and patient. In the midst of a noisy airport with announcements, people talking, swearing at their luggage, crying children tired of traveling, the doctor asked if they had an oncologist lined up. Based on the doctor’s silence after his question and his follow-on comments, I gathered that the patient had not had the news broken to him/her yet. Cancer. Lung cancer. The doctor stumbled over the news and apologized that the patient hadn’t heard the news as of yet.

To his credit, the doctor continued the conversation and tried to reassure the patient while advising him that he couldn’t make any prognosis without having more tests such as an MRI completed. After about three minutes, the doctor finally interjected and asked to call the patient back later as he was in an airport and couldn’t write down the information he needed to notify the patient’s primary care physician.

So many thoughts and feelings came rushing in for me; I had to sit down in order to process them all. My heart broke for the person on the other end of the phone. Anger at the doctor’s callousness for breaking the news in such a manner. Sadness at understanding that another person would be victim to the worst possible news. Sympathy for the doctor that had to break the news. Overwhelming fear that I could be at the other end of the phone again someday.

I heard the news of my cancer in a phone call. It was 4:00 on a Friday afternoon at the end of April. I checked my cell-phone voice mail and heard my GYN’s voice on asking me to call back for the test results from the biopsy she had performed earlier in the week.

We had scheduled the biopsy simply as a check-point leading up to an ablation procedure I wanted to help control the heavy periods I had had since I was a teenager. With a grandchild on the way and being over 40, I gave up the tiny hope that I would have more children and asked for the procedure that would likely end my child-bearing years.

My doctor had wanted to perform the biopsy just as a cautionary check-point as due to my weight I was at an increased risk for cancer. When she performed the procedure, she said everything looked healthy and we would be in touch soon to discuss next steps for the ablation.

When I hear her voice on my voice mail, I simply thought, how nice, the doctor called me personally to discuss the next steps for the ablation. I called her office; they initially said that she was in with a patient so I said I would leave a message. When I gave my name, she asked me to hold and a few moments later, my doctor’s voice came over the phone.

Still unsuspecting, I said hello. She said I’m sorry to tell you this over the phone, but I didn’t want you to wait over the weekend to get the news and told me that the biopsy had returned cancerous.

I was sitting in a conference room that was being used by myself and two other people as an office. They were getting ready to leave for the weekend, as I didn’t know them that well, I fixed a smile on my face and said “Wow, didn’t expect that” in a bright cheery voice. The doctor paused for a moment, not sure how to respond to me. I waved good-bye to the people leaving the office and got up and shut the door.

I took a deep breath, willed myself to keep talking and told her I was now alone in the office. I don’t remember what questions I asked, and what she answered back other than the fact that I would have to have a hysterectomy sometime in the next three weeks and that she had made an appointment for me with a gynecological oncologist in Denver.

I hung up the phone and sat for a few minutes. I couldn’t make sense of anything I was thinking. I felt the sobs start to well up. I took several deep breaths and walked out to the main part of the office. I found my friend, mentor, and one-time manager’s cube and walked in and asked her to come talk to me. She said “What’s up?” and looked up from her computer. The look on my face must have told her everything because she grabbed me and pulled me into the ladies room. I sat down on a chair and started to sob. I gasped out the news. It was the most horrible thing having to say it out loud. At that moment it became real. Cancer. Horrible, deathly, dark. Hanging over my head like a shroud. I could feel growing inside of my body as I sat there paralyzed with fear. I wanted to rip out my innards, destroy them for betraying me. My hands curled into claws, wishing I had the strength of will to just do it myself.

Kristy guided me out of the restroom and took me to the office of our Human Resources director. I continued to cry as Anita and Kristy comforted me. They told me not to worry about the surgery; they would help me navigate the leave process. Kristy asked who she should call for me. I couldn’t think so she and Anita decided to call Nancy.

Nancy and I had planned to meet later for dinner. She got in her car and drove the 25 minutes into the office to pick me up. As I waited outside for her, the enormity began to settle on me. I thought about my daughter and how much I loved her and decided I wouldn’t tell her until I knew more about what was going to happen. I thought about the rest of my family and how they would take the news. I wondered if Donna was having a good time in Minneapolis and briefly considered calling her. I decided to wait until the next day to talk to her in person when I picked her up from the airport. I thought about losing my hair to chemo and had a wild fancy that it would grow back in thicker and curlier like I had always wanted. I wondered what color ribbon stood for uterine cancer.

Nancy took me out to dinner, to the book store and home. We made plans for breakfast the next day so I could go pick up my car. I went home and sat in the silence and wondered how I would get through it. I called my sister and left her a message to call me. I called Amanda and told her. I made the mistake of getting on the internet and looking up uterine cancer. I found lots of information, none of it comforting.

It was late Friday night by now and I couldn’t call anyone. There was no one for me to go to, no one for me to ask questions of, I was simply alone with the internet and my thoughts. As someone who really enjoys a being by myself, this was the one time I couldn’t find any comfort or joy in solitude. The tears started to flow and didn’t stop for a long time. I find myself wiping tears from my eyes just remembering those moments.

This brings me back to the doctor in the airport. While I appreciate that he was in a rushed situation, trying to balance his travel process with the phone call from his patient and accidentally breaking news he thought had already been broken, I honestly wonder why he was having that discussion at all. News like that should not come over the phone. I would have rather had a nice weekend, enjoyed the good weather, finished painting my hallway (which had been my plan) instead of spending the time wallowing in my self-pity and fear. Monday would have been soon enough to hear the news.

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