Yesterday was the day of my follow-up appointment with my oncologist. I was at the stage in my treatment where I only have to see her every four months. Of course, there’s still the radiation oncologist and the surgeon if I plan to have reconstructive surgery, but THIS one is always stressful for me.
Jeff had a deposition in Lexington and we rode together. He knows how anxious I get when I have these visits so he offered to drive me. His presence serves as a buffer between Dr. Moss and me. I can be argumentative with her and it’s sometimes very tense in that tiny room. Now that I’ve made it this far (28 months since diagnosis), I’ve had a little more confidence in her and have tried to keep my thoughts about natural healing, vitamins, acupuncture, etc. to myself. It’s easier that way. “Honey, go to the bookstore instead of this appointment with me. I’ll be fine.” He gladly obliged.
Here’s the routine: The nurse always draws several vials of blood and takes my blood pressure. It’s ALWAYS sky-high when I’m there and below normal any other time. She weighs me. Unlike at most doctor visits, this is NO problem because the scale measures in kilograms. I am seriously emaciated if you look at the number and think in terms of pounds. I don’t even have to take off my boots, socks, sweater, watch, earrings, bracelet, and hair barrettes before weighing. This is brilliant. Why don’t ALL doctors do this?
Dr. Moss asks me a list of questions: “Any headaches? Bone pain? Coughing? Fatigue? How’s your appetite?” These questions are to determine if the cancer has spread and metastasized in another organ. Normally I would look at my watch and say without thinking, “I’m fine.” Now it’s important I think about each question carefully. “Headaches? Definitely. But we just got back from Italy a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had jet lag and stress from catching up at work. Also, I’m ashamed to say that after over four years without a Diet Coke, I caved a few months ago and I now have that monkey on my back again.” She said that one or two a day wouldn’t hurt me. I know better.
The hot flashes continue as my ovaries “sputter” and this might go on for years. No problem. Jeff is used to the house feeling like a meat locker. Same with Miranda in the office. Dr. Moss said, “Well, I’ll see you in six months when you come back for your mammogram. Sweeter words have never been spoken.
I get dressed and walk back to the waiting room. It’s filled with yellow-faced patients with oxygen machines, masks covering their noses and mouths, IV poles, and terrified loved ones sitting by their sides. The receptionist offers me a sucker out of a basket on the counter. I wondered…did Dr. Moss tell her I didn’t pick a fight today?
I thanked her and smiled with the Dum Dums sucker stick between my teeth. I turn around to leave and look at the patients sitting there in a daze. Was that me two years ago? I wanted to say. “Hang in there. It’s going to be ok.” But I knew better: Sometimes it’s not. My guilt was overwhelming. How did I make it through this in one piece and so many other don’t? My mom always said, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
I walked out to Jeff’s car and he saw the sucker in my mouth. “Well. Well. It looks like someone was a good girl today at the doctor’s office!!”
Click here to see some of my husband Jeff's photos from our trip to southern Italy and Sicily: