Three days ago, I met my oncologist for the first time.
He’s the eighth doctor I’ve seen since this whole thing began last summer.
My husband drove me to the appointment. Here’s how that went.
We're not saying much, trying to listen to music as we’re heading south on Hwy 99.
He’s freaked out as hell, and I’m looking out the window and imagining what life will look like six months from now.
It’s one of my strategies for staying calm. I picture my future healthy, happy and free of cancer.
Another strategy is admiring the mystic complexity of trees and clouds, and marveling how deep and cosmically connected we are to each other.
Hubs and I know we’re going to Swedish Cancer Institute. We’re not sure of the exact location, which adds to the anxiety level in the car.
We spot the address, turn into the lot, park the car, and look at each other.
I see fear in his eyes...I don’t know what he sees in mine...
...here we go...
The building appears modern and new, clean and friendly...as friendly as a cancer clinic can look. It feels the same on the inside.
I approach the desk. A serene and lovely woman greets us. Suddenly, I feel more at ease. Her manner is reassuring and calm.
I’m thinking, “OK, this is a good start."
In the waiting area next to us there is a man in a wheelchair receiving a $100 Safeway card because he can’t work and is unable to buy groceries.
My husband says he hates the feeling he gets in his stomach whenever he’s in a hospital.
Not sure exactly what I was expecting...
But having worked in healthcare myself for over 20 years, I think my familiarity with the setting gives me an emotional advantage over people without that background.
Lately, I often wonder how other patients are able to navigate some of the complicated and confusing aspects of our messed up healthcare and insurance systems.
It had been a 3 months-long struggle with my own insurance company before I could receive care.
Doctor Ward exceeded our expectations for warmth, caring and thoroughness in his explanations.
As we spoke and he outlined the situation, he doodled and jotted notes on a yellow notepad to create a wonderful visual.
“Chalkboard” he called it.
He explained in detail what cancer is, how it works, how it can be stopped.
Mine is Clear Cell Carcinoma of the ovaries, a rare and aggressive form.
A Stage IC means although the cancerous tumor was completely removed surgically, and there was no evidence of the disease in any other tissue samples...
...the pathologists did detect random, loose individual cancer cells in my abdominal cavity.
Those little em-effer’s represent possible future tumors, if they decided to connect.
...which is why dose dense chemotherapy is the recommended course of action.
By the way, I did seek out a second opinion, third opinion, and fourth opinion.
They all said the same thing.
Doc Ward describes all the ways in which chemotherapy can be administered, again using his cool "chalkboard".
The best for my situation seems to be 18 weekly infusions of two types of chemotherapy.
He says this is a lot more than most people get.
OK, I’m calm as he tells us, because it’s what I was already expecting.
By this point, I’d already been doing my own studying and soul-searching for weeks.
We move into discussion of side effects.
Yuck, the usual ones we all hear about: nausea, hair loss, fatigue, anemia, blah blah.
But then there’s one I hadn’t known.
Peripheral neuropathy- tingling, pins-and-needles sensation, numbness and pain in fingers and toes.
Could become permanent if not treated.
Then we talk about the meds to treat all the different side effects from chemo. WTH!
I am NOT a pill-popping person, and wish to avoid that at all costs.
Oh well, this is all temporary, right?
The biggest blow comes next.
Doctor says he wants to get my intravenous port surgically implanted in just two days, and begin chemotherapy treatments two days after that!
YIKES, so fast?
I know, I know, I’ve already waited for so long for everything to get taken care of...
...but suddenly shit just got real. Really real.
In the car on the way home, I start to cry because I am feeling truly scared and unsure for the first time.
I mean scared in my soul.
Not the “I wonder what does the future hold” kind of scared.
But the “oh shit, this is going to suck and be painful and terrible” kind of scared.
My husband is scared too, and unable to comfort me much.
We grieve side-by-side.