Saturday, September 04, 2010

"You would have gone ballistic"

So wrote Kathleen, in an email updating me on her condition.

She's right, I would have.

Last month she had a small lump removed from her breast, Stage 1 cancer. The procedure went well and a follow up with her oncologist was scheduled for this past week. They were to discuss treatment options. While she is, naturally, relieved that her cancer seems very manageable, she has been apprehensive for weeks about this follow up. She has heard how draining chemo and radiation can be, and Kathleen fears this. She has a high-paying, but high-stress marketing position. With one child in college and another one in high school, she worries about juggling tuitions and retirement saving. Plus, since her husband is self-employed, she is concerned about keeping her job so she can keep her comprehensive and affordable health insurance.

Also on her mind is her hair. Her full, pale brown/dark blonde curls. Her hair is her most beautiful feature and naturally she doesn't want to lose it.

So she went into this week's appointment prepared to hear more details on her options, ready to embark on the next chapter of her cancer drama. It was, therefore, disappointing to hear her doctor tell her that more tests need to be run before he was prepared to discuss treatment regimens. OK, said Kathleen, expecting to be asked to roll up her sleeve or remove her blouse, ready to surrender whatever material they needed to test.

She was disheartened when, instead, she was handed a clipboard. She had waited three weeks to give her permission to run tests on cells that had been removed last month. Now she has to wait three more weeks to find out what her course of treatment will be.

Recalling how emotional I got last summer when I had to wait forever to find out that my own suspicious mammogram really revealed nothing serious, Kathleen said, "You would have gone ballistic" hearing what she heard this past week.

Selfishly, I take a lot of comfort out of the fact that her oncologist, on staff at a world-class hospital with a reputation for excellent cancer treatment, feels she can wait now until later this month to begin taking next steps. That will put her close to two months after the original procedure to remove the lump, so clearly a man who is expert in his field doesn't think her case is at all life threatening. This lack of urgency is important to me because I don't want to lose her.

But for her, I am angry. Because her case seems to be rather run of the mill, I am not sure her care givers are managing her expectations the way they should. To them, I suspect, she's just a file folder with a name on it. But she's a woman who is scared -- frightened of losing her health care, her stamina, and her lush, beautiful curls.

1 comment:

  1. I think that doctors forget to put themselves in their patient's shoes. We have a co-worker going through the same thing right now, Yes, you have cancer, but we don't know what kind, have to send out the biopsy for the cancer diagnosis. No cancer patient should have to live through the hurry up and wait.

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