Monday, March 10, 2008

Straight talk

I had a really satisfying talk with my doctor this morning.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m impatient,” I said. “I mean, this last week has been hard. The business of no news from the scan… it wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I want this to be over. And at the same time, I realize there are lots of patients who don’t have that option. It appears I’m not dying. I should be more grateful. Guilt, impatience, disappointment: It’s all making me crazy.”

She looked piercingly at me and said, “This is melanoma. There are no guarantees, nothing to take for granted. I’ve seen people with a huge amount of disease get dramatically better, and I’ve seen some who look like it should be manageable, and they suddenly die from it.” She talked about the way patients get lulled into thinking that a course of action should simply continue, forgetting that melanoma has its own mysterious set of rules. She talked in the third person about how people get disappointed when a positive trend suddenly stalls; how they forget they can't count on it.

I didn’t feel scolded. It wasn’t meant as a scolding; it was a wakeup call. “You’re right,” I said. “When I first got the diagnosis I was overcome with worry: Will I die? Will I be able to take care of myself? I had to remind myself to stay focused in the present. But it’s just as important when things are going well to keep from getting too far ahead of myself.”

And then, “You mean, my reaction isn’t unusual? Other people have this jumble of feelings when this happens?”

“Oh yes,” she said, and after a pause the conversation turned personal. “I felt the same way when I saw your scan report. I had expected it to continue and I was disappointed when it had nothing new to offer. But then I wanted to kick myself; what was I thinking?!” She was no longer speaking in the third person. “I had to remind myself there are no givens with this disease, nothing to count on. I start thinking ‘hey, I’m raising the cure rate to 50%,’ but then I have to remind myself not to get cocky. Patients plateau. Maybe their bodies become resistant to the drugs, for whatever reason. If that happens here, we’ll go to some other treatment. We’ll just keep going on... and be grateful we have the option.”

I’ve said it before: My doctor is a remarkable woman. She’s compassionate, kind, and honest, in addition to charachteristics you'd expect, like intelligent, analytical, and tenacious. I’ve never met another doctor like her. More than a couple of people on her staff have remarked to me that they remain in their positions because of her. They feel a loyalty to her and the program she’s built up.

She talked some more about the people she’s hiring, the renowned program she’s developing, the papers she’s happy to co-author, and the staff she’s eager to share that honor with. She’s really good at research, great at getting things done. She’ll nearly double the size of her program by the summer and take a more supportive, administrative role. She’ll cut back her patient involvement, but I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll lose touch with this loving, lovely woman.

She handed me my chart to take to the treatment floor, we hugged, and she thanked me for the "therapeutic talk." She is such an anchor for me!


Anonymous said...


I think you are a great person and I have been reading your blog for quite some time.

I really hope the best for you, but there is a free website if you want to read it.

Maybe between your normal treatments you can try other ideas. Maybe between the two types of treatments you will have even more success. It helped me out a lot, especially when my cancer started to make me depressed. It does not hurt to read and learn more.

Your friend - praying for you

Ceil said...

Thanks so much for the kind words!

And thanks also for the link. I do like to keep up with things, though it's a never-ending battle against information overload.

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