Finally – First Meeting with the Surgical Oncologist

by Maggan

in Biopsy,Diagnosis,Doctor's Appointment,Mammogram,Pathology,Prognosis,Surgery

istock_000003361854xsmall1Finally, I meet with Dr. Guru, my surgeon oncologist, after a two week wait. It seems like ten light years.

The waiting room is enormous, empty except for an elderly couple. I notice that they do not carry an over-sized,  brown x-ray envelope, like I do. The staff in the reception  is slow and overweight, not surly but not particularly kind or nice either. They treat me no better, but no worse, than the staff in the post office.

The waiting room is filled with rows of empty chairs with wooden arm-rests. A revival meeting could easily be held here. Are all these seats ever completely filled with cancer struck patients? This is a new world for me and it seems amazingly pedestrian and unremarkable, despite the foreboding sign above the entrance door: Surgical Oncology.

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Dr. Guru looks exactly like his web photo – an open, friendly face. He is of normal built, fit without being too gaunt or too muscular. He exudes competence and energy, a no nonsense man.

“I assume you have read up on this,” he says, talking to me, not my husband, although he includes him with a  brief glance.  Dr. Guru’s manner is factual, and he gives me his assessment without sugar coating, he pauses for any questions I may have.  I don’t  have the slightest feeling that Dr. Guru is trying to shoot me with one silver bullet at a time when he lays it on the line: “Clinical Stage I” then quickly adds: “for now.”

“We may find more on the MRI and that could change your picture. We may find cells in the lymph nodes. ” He explains the blue dye he will squirt into me and why.

Unbeknownst to me, I have lymph nodes, like pearls on strings, around my breasts. I certainly don’t remember a word of this from my tenth grade biology class.  (I do remember the 6th grade class about “flowers and bees” and how our teacher managed to transform this fascinating subject  into a jumbo sleeping pill.)

Some of the lymph nodes go from my breast up to the collar bone and neck, supraclavicular lymph nodes. Others go from my breasts to my arm pits, axillary lymph nodes. They are all part of the lymphatic system, and their purpose is to catch debris.  When cancer cells spread from the breast, they take the path of least resistance, and travel along the lymph node system (sometimes also along the vascular system.) At surgery, Dr. Guru’s plan is now to squirt a special blue dye into my breast to see how far the fluid travels. He will then take the lymph nodes with blue dye and dissect them to check for cancer cells. It is called a sentinel node biopsy.  It saves the surgeon from having to remove lymph nodes from your axilla willy nilly since they are so important for the body’s ability to halt infections.

“You won’t die from this,” Dr. Guru finally says. “But we have to get you through it.”

Or did he say: “You are not likely to die from this?”

As we wait for the elevator, I can not remember if Dr. Guru used the word “likely” or the more assertive “won’t die from this.”  My husband cannot remember either. Marie is right. There is so much to keep track of, so many important nuances. I want to write everything down in my blue  journal as soon as I get home, while everything is still fresh in my mind. But here I am walking to my car, already confused, uncertain about Dr. Guru’s exact phrase.

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