Thursday, October 8, 2009

I’ve become a Hypochondriac…

I wasn’t always a hypochondriac, but it is another side effect of my disease. Every ache and pain becomes a potential deadly form of cancer. 90% of the time I keep myself in check and wait until I have a clinic visit to share my concerns. For the most part, they are just that, concerns, not deadly diseases. In reading the following article from yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, I had to laugh. Although the author is a 7 year survivor of breast cancer, she still recognizes each malady as her imminent cause of death. I don’t know if those who have not had a serious disease will find this humorous, but there are enough of us out there, that I’ll share the article here.

Take care everyone.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 7, 2009

More than the sum of my medical records Cancer survivors need doctors to know their names.

By Missy Stein

October has arrived, and so has Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as it has come to be known since 1985. For me and others who have been affected by the disease, breast cancer is something we are aware of 12 months a year. For the rest of the world, designating this month provides an opportunity for special events, media attention, and bringing a number of issues related to breast cancer to the forefront. I have one that doesn't get much attention.

As a seven-year survivor of breast cancer, I am a cancer graduate. In other words, I've reached that stratospheric level where I have to visit the oncologist only once a year for an unceremonious checkup.

I recently switched from a doctor I had been seeing at Fox Chase Cancer Center for four years to a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania. My impetus was a letter I received after reaching the point where I had survived five years and was therefore no longer considered to be at high risk.

I had been seeing an oncologist regularly every six months, as is customary for a survivor who has finished treatment. Then, much to my surprise, not long before my first post-five-year annual appointment, I received a form letter from a nurse at Fox Chase. She informed me that I would no longer be seeing the doctor, and that my appointments would be with her from then on. And that was my last contact with Fox Chase, other than having the center transfer my records to Penn.

I recently had my second visit with my new, young, smart, spunky, talented doctor at the Rena Rowen Breast Center at Penn. And the best part was that she knew my name! I mean, she knew who I was without looking at my records.

She didn't ask me when my last mammogram was, because she actually remembered that I had bilateral mastectomies. She asked me about my husband and referred to the fact that he is a rabbi. And she told me that, within three weeks of my transfer to her, three other patients were referred to her for the same reason.

Yes, we are survivors, but for every ache and pain that another person would forget about after taking a Tylenol, we think we have cancer. During my annual visits, when the oncologist asks me if I've had any health issues since we last met, my joking reply is, "Yes, I've had elbow cancer and neck cancer, but I'm fine now."

When you are in the midst of breast cancer treatment, your doctors and nurses become a part of your life. The breast surgeon and plastic surgeon become friends you look forward to seeing, even if you have to sit in their well-decorated waiting rooms for more than an hour.

And if you go through chemotherapy, as I did, the oncologist and the oncology nurses are people you see several times a month, who comfort you when you think you just can't do it anymore, and who laugh with you when you recount the story of how, halfway through your conversation with the UPS guy, you realized you forgot to put something on your bald head before you answered the door.

They know about your frightened children, your crazy in-laws, and the friend who brought you dinner. I didn't realize how much I missed that until I walked out of my appointment with my new doctor that day. I guess I'd been worn down.

Seven years ago, when I had five small children, I gave it my all. I found the best doctors, and I went through a 14-hour surgery and six months of chemotherapy. I learned to be an advocate for myself in every aspect of my treatment, always rising to the challenge.

Over the past few years, though, I'd let my guard down. I'd settled for being just another medical record.

But those days are over. Today I want to say "thank you" to my new doctor for saying my name - not "Mrs. Stein," not "Melissa," but the same name that I introduced myself with when I walked into her office for the first time: Missy.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ed. That is a great article. It can be difficult to understand what it is really like to have cancer. Missy's writing was insightful and enjoyable.

Take care,
Clare

Chris Collins said...

Hello Ed,

I've just caught up on the last few years of your blog. Bravo. I'm quite pleased, after years of dismissing blogs as meaningless, to find such solidarity and information in blogs such as yours.

Reading it all left me hungry to know about the last month or so.

One observation I made is your early reluctance to be personal, then your meditation on depression to acceptance, along with the beginnings of posts on your more general thoughts and life.

I think your early reluctance and being a 'private' person is understandable. Lots of us feel similarly. Shifting out of that mindset and those beliefs, into a more expansiveness, just may be the medicine which defeats depression and leads to more fully living with acceptance. Just an observation that one can make by absorbing four years in an hours time.

Thank you for your blog.