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
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
“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.