Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Say That Again?

Last Thursday Ian and I went to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for my post-surgical check-up with the oncologist. As I’ve chosen, this go-around, to behave non-traditionally in terms of my care, it wasn’t clear that this appointment was going to be much more than jumping through a hoop, particularly because of my current oncologist situation.

If you’ll remember, my previous oncologist, the one that I had for about 7 years, from June 1999 through the end of May 2006 (okay, that really is exactly 7 years), left Seattle at the end of my maintenance treatments for the infinitely warmer and dryer climes of Tucson, Arizona. My new oncologist, whom I met for the first time in October, right about the time I started having panic attacks, went on maternity leave virtually as soon as she delivered my new diagnosis. She seemed very nice, and more or less willing to not argue with me about seeing a naturopath (she even referred to herself as an allopath, which is a term I’d only seen applied when referring to “the other”) . . . but I can’t say we had time to develop much of a relationship. She’s still on leave (until a week before we take off for New Zealand so I probably won’t see her again), so the oncologist who saw me for my check-up was almost completely unknown to me.

He came in briskly, a man of a type I’m particularly familiar with, in his sixties, looking much like Marsh and much like Ian’s dad, not too tall, with a gray and white beard and a fringe of matching hair. He looked like the kind of doctor who expected his word—however kindly delivered—to be law, and who went home comfortably at the end of the day to his suede-elbow-patched tweed jacket, fireplace, and pipe.

“Why do you have such an enormous file?” he asked, plunking two thick binders on the desk in the examination room.

“Oh, this wasn’t the first time for me,” I said casually. “It’s been several years.”

“Have we met before?”

“Only briefly, for about five minutes last fall. I had a waiting room full of friends in town for another friend’s wedding, and we were late for lunch.”

“Ah, yes. Well, let me take a minute here to catch up . . .”

He proceeded to pull up my recent files on the computer, and Ian and I read over his shoulder as much as we could. It seems that lots has been written about me, which I find warmly comforting. My surgeon’s report in particular was pleasing: “Calin is 34 years old,” it began. “She is delightful.”

After a few minutes of scanning, the doctor was evidently able to come to the conclusion (which was correct) that I had not yet met with a radiation oncologist, even though it had been recommended that I do, and he proceeded to inform me that that was, pretty much, unacceptable.

“I am not asking you to make a choice for radiation,” he said, as I tried uselessly to defend myself. “I’m asking you to make a choice for information. I wouldn’t call you crazy to not meet with a radiation oncologist . . .” he said, leaving us to understand that, in fact, he would.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll meet with one. You’re right, information is a good thing to have.”

“Excellent. It also says here that your doctor recommended you go back on Herceptin and Zoladex and Letrozole?”

“Yes, she did. And I have chosen not to.”

“What are you doing instead?”

“I’m seeing a naturopath who specializes in homeopathic remedies and herbal cancer treatments.”

“And how do you feel?” he asked.

“I feel great,” I said. “My blood counts, all of them, have normalized since I’ve been seeing him.” I paused. “I feel powerful.”

“Alright.” He paused. “Well then . . . what can we do for you?”

I had a list ready. “I do have three requests. One, I’d like a copy of my mammogram to send to New Zealand with our visa application. Two, I’m supposed to include a specialist report with every medical issue that’s out of the ordinary, and this qualifies. Three, I’d like to get my port out.”

“The mammogram is easy . . .” he said, turning to the computer and hitting print, “although I have no idea where that will print. Why do you want to get your port out? Is it hurting you?”

“No. If necessary, could I get it back in?”

“Yes. But if it’s not bothering you, why get it out?”

“Because the every-four-weeks flushing is getting to be increasingly inconvenient.”

“Ah. Well,” he said, looking at Ian, “your husband seems to be a reasonably competent individual. We could teach him how to do it so you wouldn’t have to come to a clinic.”

“Huh! Well, that’s interesting,” I said non-committally, but he continued.

“It would cause a bit of a shit-storm,” he said, “but not more of a shit-storm than the rest of the choices you’re making.”

Our mouths gaped, shocked, and then we burst out laughing. Suddenly, I liked the man a lot more, and he became a bit less of a hoop I was merely jumping through.

“I do so appreciate you suggesting this option, I really do,” I said. “Nevertheless . . .”

“You’d like to get it out to put some end to this whole episode.”

“Yes, I would.”

“Okay, you got it.”

He retrieved the mammogram report, reminding me to note that the right breast, the one with the problem, was no longer anywhere on my person. He suggested that we wait and see what, if anything, New Zealand immigration wanted from an oncologist (“If they just want to know if you can tie your shoes, well, I can confidently say that you can, no matter how strange those shoes might be [I was wearing my “rabbit” lace-up boots]”). Then he wrote out the referral to the radiation oncologist and the orders to get my port removed, and sent us on our way.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Go, FBI!

In a totally unexpected attack of expediency, the FBI returned our fingerprint cards (required for our visa applications) yesterday, a mere 10 days, or only 6 business days from when I sent them in! It probably helps that neither of us has any criminal record, but nevertheless, this was 2 weeks faster than I’d requested, and 8 ½ weeks faster than they said they could get them done! Ah, the government. Likes to keep us guessing.

I guess.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Proof of Adjustment

I went to the spa today, to sweat out toxins from surgery and the filthy, filthy air we Seattleites have been living with for the last week or so (a downside to the gorgeous, heavy-frost pink and gold dawns we’ve been having, and the windless sunny days, is the pressure inversion that’s keeping all our copious exhaust here on the ground where we can really get to know it), and I have to say, it was a bit strange to see all these women with two boobs each. I have yet to see anyone with a mastectomy at the spa, so I’m not sure why I was surprised to not see anyone else today, but there you have it. I made it a point to not stare at women who might be in a position to look at me, so that they would be comfortable checking out my scar if they wanted to.

I’m definitely feeling the effects of my surgery physically. I want to go rock climbing, but can’t stretch that easily over my head yet. I’ve stayed off the treadmill for the last three weeks to not put any undue stress on my lymph system, and to not sweat until my scar was healed over completely, but I think I’m going to give it a go tomorrow. I’ve unconsciously started using my left hand and arm more for lifting, so I’m bulking up on that side and atrophying on the other side, and in general I’m a bit soft—like I’ve spent the last three weeks recovering from surgery or something. I can even feel the slightly different weight of the left side of my chest (con-boob) compared to the right side of my chest (sans-boob). My sacrum and hips keep bumping out of alignment and sending twinges all up the right side of my back and over the top of my head, but in another couple weeks I’ll be able to wear the prosthesis regularly, which should help balance things out a bit.

It looks like my adjustment to the new me is psychological rather than physical at this point—but the mind’s generally the bigger battle, so I’m doing fine.