From the monthly archives:

January 2010


This is the week Dr. Guru promised to do my re-excision.  But not a word from his office or from his assistant, Joy,  who  supposedly is “arranging the details.” No explanation. No apology. No  follow up.

Meanwhile I am obsessed with my research, trying to figure out the dangers of putting off radiation. Everything I have read says it should ideally be within four weeks of the lumpectomy,  no more than eight weeks.

I find a Breast Society Journal that confirms what I suspect:  2nd incision not good for the breast, tunnel syndrome etc. Dr. Guru himself has written something in this journal.

And how will Dr. Guru know where to carve again, now that my breast, presumably, has heeled?

“Will remove lateral margin with aid of frozen section. My assistant arranging details. Thanks,” reads Dr. Guru’s email in response to mine. But he gives no hint of exact date for my re-excision although “next week”  is right now.

I call Dr. Alpha, my radiation oncologist,and ask him  if a two week wait is OK.  ” Not ideal, but OK,” he says.

Pissed, I call Dr. Guru’s office.

“I am supposed to have surgery this week, but I have no idea which day he means,” I tell his assistant.

She has no idea either.

“These small procedures are so hard to fit into his schedule,” she laments.

“I am already aware of how terribly insignificant my procedure is , but I cannot go on with my radiation and hormone  treatments without the re-excision.”

”Oh no,  that is not what I mean.”

“Can another surgeon do it?” I ask realizing I sound ridiculous.

“Oh no, then you are a new patient and have to start all over again. How about  the 15th?

“That is TWO weeks away. Two months since my first surgery.”

Briefly, I am put on hold. She comes back to tell me they have no openings this week. None.

“Maybe the 7th. I will call you back if we have a cancellation. Promise.”

“He usually does these small procedures on Fridays,” she says. “But this Friday he has a 10-hour procedure scheduled.”

I don’t give a rat’s tail anymore.

“How about my little one before the big one on Friday?”

We keep wrestling over the phone, both of us digging in our heels, but neither of us loosing our cool.

“I am going over to the hospital this afternoon,” she finally concedes. “I will ask him to call you if he can do something about it. Some times he sees thing I don’t.”

“Have him call me either way,” I tell her. “I want it straight from Dr. Guru’s mouth to my ear why he told me he was going to do it this week and suddenly he can’t. I want to hear him say it.”

Around 3 PM,  Dr. Guru’s assistant calls. She sounds relieved. “You have pre-op  on Thursday at 10.45 AM. Your  re-excision is on Friday, 1 PM.

I immediately feel guilty. What melanoma patient has been pushed off the table to make room for me? What woman with advanced breast cancer, a double mastectomy with reconstruction may have been pushed off the OR table? What person needing a 10-hour surgery is now in a complete funk because of me?

“Bullshit,” says my friend Cecilia.  “He just canceled his golf game, that was his 10-hour procedure. Don’t kid yourself.”

But I am not convinced, just relieved to know it will finally be done.


Surgeon at Work

Twenty minutes after Professor Oncology nixes chemo therapy, five minutes after Dr. Alpha, the radiation oncologist, calls to tell me that I need a re-excision to get clear margins (you are supposed to have 2 mm) I am sitting in my friend’s garden sipping tea from her bone china cup. I am “in the moment” trying not to mull over all the “what ifs.”   The insufficient margin frustration is behind me. Well,  almost.  My new bosom buddy, the radiation oncologist, took charge of the incomprehensible pathology report. He even called a day earlier than promised to let me know that I , indeed, need a second surgery!

Suddenly, my cell phone buzzes. A Magnolia Cancer Center number.

The way Dr. Guru, my surgeon, puts it to me, one might think that he himself had called  my radiation oncologist, to tell him to hold off radiation,  not the other way around.

“I am still not convinced you really need this,” Dr. Guru says. “But maybe it is not such a bad idea, after all.” Then in what seems like a vague apology he adds:  “I know you are very busy and all and this will be a bit of an inconvenience for you, but we might as well go ahead and put it behind us. “

“Might as well. But when?”

“Next week.” Dr. Guru does not hesitate. “We will schedule this for next week. Joy will call you to arrange the details.”

I feel stupid for being so happy. How much happier could I not have been  had  I been wrong about the re-excision, and able to start radiation right away? Is it not childish to be happy about being vindicated? After all, I am the one who will be the most inconvenienced, just like Dr. Guru admitted. Also, I feel mildly irritated that Dr. Alpha has to tell me not to hurt Dr. Guru’s feelings by “not rubbing his nose in it.” What other profession is filled with egos so fragile that they need to be perpetually wrapped in velvet and praise? A master surgeon is never to be reminded of a mistake, however slight or insignificant.


Re-Excision After All

January 17, 2010

Three distinguished physicians, all cancer specialists,  seem lukewarm – or indifferent – to the merits of chemo therapy, in my case. I feel as light as a swallow, and just as fast, as I leave the Magnolia Cancer Center. I tip the valet $10, but before I can drive away, my cell phone buzzes. “Charlie […]

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Oncology: A Second Opinion.

January 10, 2010

The sign “Magnolia Cancer Center” does not look as surreal as it has during my previous visits. After all, I do have breast cancer and this center is for me. Although I do not yet have the hollow eyes, the waxy complexion, the bloated body, or the shuffling gate of so many of the other […]

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Dr. Alpha Can’t Radiate Me – Yet!

January 6, 2010

Dr. Alpha, my new radiation oncologist, flips back and forth  in my pathology report. He seems annoyed. Not with me, but with the report. He pushes the reading glasses back on top of his head. “I don’t understand this,” he says. His tone bristles, but he looks kindly at me as he stabs his finger […]

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