From the monthly archives:

November 2009


Dr. Weary’s office is crowded and a bit shabby. His nurse weighs me, takes my blood pressure and draws several vials of blood. The work area is cramped and cluttered. Staff bumps into each other as they reach for needles, gauze, and other paraphernalia. I walk towards my meeting with Dr. Weary himself  through a narrow hallway which is lined with a long row of vinyl chairs. Each is equipped with a rod from which the dreaded chemo bottle will hang (or does chemo come in bags?) I shudder.

Dr. Weary runs late, but quickly pulls his chair up to the desk. He is fiftyish, speaks with a slight Southern drawl. He has kind brown eyes, and smiles easily, but looks a bit tired.

In front of him, on the desk, is a file and a brochure entitled “Shared Decision Making Chart.”  I notice that it has the same adjuvant statistical grahps as  Dr. Guru’s, except these bars are in full color. Dr. Weary’s assessment is different too:  My improved survival with chemo is not one in a hundred, but four in a hundred. I feel my hands start to tremble and get clammy.

“How can that be?” I ask. (I should be delighted that it is four in a hundred not forty, but I am focused on disaster. I am so petrified of the chemo that I have also completely lost sight of its purpose.)

“Well, Guru based his on first generation chemo, ” he says. Now we have a much more effective therapy. We give six rounds, not four, and we give it every three weeks.

“We give cytoxan/adriamyacin/5FOX in six cycles. Your beautiful hair, ” Dr. Weary looks up to glance at my head, “will be gone, of course. With Andriamycin the hair falls out after the first cycle, but it ALL comes back,” he assures me.

I want to joke that the hair is more Van Michael’s than my own, but I am too shocked at the thought of chemo, and I try hard not to get weepy.

I have been so prepared to skip the chemo poisons. But  the issue again looms before me, like some growling, nasty pit bulldog in my path.



In Dr. Weary’s waiting room, I begin to fill in endless health questions on a clumsy electronic gadget. It allows him to transfer everything directly to a computer without errors, I suppose. But the design of the gadget is decidedly more  Soviet era style  than a modern American invention.

The waiting room is empty except for a woman who I guess  to be in her early 80s. White, perfectly coiffed, hair, immaculately groomed, but with a nasal, raspy voice, the kind that grates on anyone’s nerves. She is accompanied by a middle-aged woman who could only be her daughter.

The daughter, too, is immaculate: shoulder length blond hair, sprayed into a helmet. Green mini-skirt with a small pattern. Is it a golf skirt, a tennis skirt, or just a mini skirt to reveal her shapely tanned legs and aging knees? Her purse and sandals match the green skirt. A junior league type.

The middle-age daughter helps the mother fill in  health questions. Not on the type of gadget I have, but on reams of white forms. The daughter reads out loud: questions about hemorrhoids, bowel movements, head aches, medications, surgeries, libido: high or low? The mother does not appear to be hard of hearing, but the daughter still insists on speaking in a loud clear voice that reverberates in the almost empty, quiet  space.

“When did you have your biopsy?“

The mother seems confused.


Was she uncertain about having had a biopsy or just about the date?

“What was the name of your surgeon?”

“My doctor?” whines the mother, “it was, let me see, “Wasn’t it Doctor C?” She looks at her daughter, clearly hoping the answer is right.

“No, your surgeon!” snaps the daughter.

“Oh my surgeon. Well, let me think.”

You can almost see the neurons in the old woman’s brain crash into each other, go in spirals at the speed of molasses, as the poor thing tries to recall the name of her surgeon. The daughter finally rescues her.

“Wasn’t it Doctor X?”

“Oh yes, of course,” the old woman relaxes. Grateful, she pats her daughter’s hand.

“Of course it was. Now I remember. But I always confuse him with Dr. Y.”

The daughter does not seem like someone who works outside the home. Could she not have taken an hour or so to fill out these forms in the privacy of the mother’s home  where they would have access to her records?

No, here they are, the ice cold, dutiful daughter, so clearly annoyed and inconvenienced; and the whiny, self-absorbed mother, who comes across not so much cold as she does superficial. The old woman seems much more interested in gossip than her own health issues.

In her squeaky voice she prattles on about a cruise, about some make-up she bought at Sak’s. About some couple with problems. The daughter bristles and snaps at the mother, her feathers inexplicably ruffled by even the most innocuous statements.

I realize the old woman is hard to take. I have no problem thinking that she may not have been the warmest and most available of mothers. She seems incredibly concerned with proprieties, decorations, and shopping. And I also recognize the anger issues that I had with my own mother, and my oldest daughter with me.

It is eerie how easily, and universally, mothers tend to irritate their children. Although, my youngest seem to have fewer issues with me than my oldest does. Perhaps because we are both extroverts, eager to please, talkative, while my oldest is more of an introvert, self-contained, quiet. Or maybe I have just been harder on my oldest daughter, more inexperienced as a mother. (How easy it must be to bruise a human being’s soul even with the best of intentions. ) Yet neither of my daughters are as irritated with me as I have always been with my own mother.

But for all the issues I had with my mother: her neediness, her complaints, her woe is me, please-cheer-me-up-demands, I would not in a million years ever have humiliated her by discussing the details of her deteriorating body in front of strangers.

Also, I feel bad  how easily these two women have managed to give me an adverse chemical reaction. Just a few days earlier, I  promised myself to be a better person. More tolerant.  Kinder. Yet, here I am, my tumor removed, my prognosis rosy, and, still, I am right back where I don’t want to be: Judgmental and impatient with others, the two habits I swore off just a few days ago.


Onward to the Oncologist(s)

November 15, 2009

The Breast Consultants at Vanderbilt University confirm the previous findings in my pathology report. And Dr. Guru assures me that “he would not do a re-excision on his own wife.”  That does it for me. I cancel the appointment  with the second surgeon, the one set by my sister-in-law. After all, the second surgeon has […]

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A Joke From the Breast “Care” Center?

November 14, 2009

“As part of a regular ongoing effort to provide quality patient care,” reads the letter from the Breast “Care” Center. “We encourage annual follow up care.” It then goes on to say that they would greatly appreciate receiving information concerning my health status since last treated there. Really? This is the Breast Care Center where […]

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Re-Excision Me, Re-Excision Me Not….

November 7, 2009

“Sometimes when I consider the tremendous consequences that come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.” – Bruce Barton -When will you have your re-excision? my sister-in-law wants to know. I tell her that I believe Dr. Guru when he says my margins are clear. He says that I […]

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OncoDX Test Results

November 1, 2009

Although no cancer cells may have been found in a patient’s lymph nodes during surgery, 20 percent of these “node negative” patients still have cancer cells somewhere outside the breast area. Not surprising perhaps, since once a tumor reaches  1 cm, you have one billion cancer cells, like this one below, in your body. In […]

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