Farewell to Radiation Oncology

by Maggan

in Breast Cancer Treatment,oncology,Radiation Oncology

iStock_000007262008XSmall[1]“Dr. Weary, my oncologist, called me yesterday,” I tell Dr. Alpha, on my last day of radiation. “Please note that yesterday was Sunday.”

Dr. Alpha nods, waits to hear what I have to say.

I tell him how sad and disturbed Dr. Weary seemed when I nixed chemo. I admitted to Dr. Alpha that the idea of chemo scared me more than death itself. Dr. Alpha listens attentively. I suppose it is this precise trait that connects him with his patients. He does not seem annoyed. He does not seem distracted or bored. His face is alert, with an empathetic expression which makes you think he agrees with you and makes you talk more. But actually, as you reflect on it, you have no idea what he is thinking. Had his profession not been radiation oncology, I suspect he might have been perfectly suited for diplomacy. (Doctors of Osteopathy are trained to listen and to talk to patients from all walks of life, I found out.)

His listening skills, his neutrality, are such that I , at one point, feel emboldened. I blurt out that I think some oncologists have to give chemo just to have a viable practice. How could they make any money writing prescriptions for hormone pills?

Dr. Alpha does not look shocked. He nods.

“Yes,” he admits, that might be true for some oncologists, but not for Dr. Weary. He has a practice with all the patients he can possibly handle.”

I know Dr. Alpha is telling me the truth. Dr Weary is legendary in our city. Stories circulate about how personal and caring he is. He keeps people alive beyond everyone’s expectations. He often sits with his patients while they get their infusion. He called me on a Sunday. Maybe he should get a life I had thought. But learned that he has a young wife and four small children. He has plenty of life to live on a Sunday. Yet he called me because he is conscientious. I feel ashamed.

I inform Dr. Alpha that I missed an earlier appointment with him because I was out of town.

“Did you go somewhere nice?”

“I was be in San Francisco.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“Pleasure. Visiting my youngest daughter. When you get cancer,” I added, ”you start taking your pleasures seriously, “

Again, I immediately feel embarrassed. How incredibly superficial this must sound to a doctor who has a whole waiting room filled with seriously ill patients: The young woman with cancer in her collar bone, the lady with the meat loaf neck, the two young men with colon and prostate cancer. The teenage boy who has a shaved head and who comes in with a different adult every day. Hospital staff? Ward of the State? It does not seem like friends or family accompanying him. Dr. Alpha has patients rolled down to him on their hospital beds. They are kept in a hallway adjacent to the small waiting room. But I can hear groans and moans under heaps of sheets and blankets. Are these patients needing radiation for pain relief? Yet Dr. Alpha is poker faced. If he was tempted to slap me, he did not let on.

Uninterrupted I prattle on .

“And by the way, I hate AstraZeneca! They pat themselves on the back about their cancer drugs which nets them hundreds of millions in profits. At the same time they produce and sell numerous carcinogens. No wonder they don’t  explore pills for prevention or a cure.”

“I don’t like them much either,” Dr. Alpha says.

“During radiation I feel I am doing something about my cancer. Every day.  Now I just have to anxiously feel wait and see.”

He nods

“Yes, that is all normal,” he assures me. “This is how people feel.”

I wondered if this was normal for all radiation patients, or just his? Did life outside his aura of confidence and care seem cold and uncertain, scary? What about patients who had distracted, stress out radiation oncologists who were poor listeners? Was it Dr. Alpha that made radiation seem healing instead of destructive? Or was it, really, the idea that the machine killed cells in your body that you found comforting? Or both?

Aware of the ticking clock, his packed waiting room, of which he did not seem the least aware, I felt the need to get up and go. My six weeks of radiation therapy have come to an end. It has been remarkably easy. No pain. No nausea. No fatigue. But that is how it normally is with breast cancer. Radiation of other parts of your body is a totally different matter.

“Well, I guess I am ready to transfer my emotional dependence from you to Dr. Weary now,” I say.

I wanted to ask him to be my medical oncologist, the cushiest job he would ever have. How much effort would it be for him to call my local pharmacy to fill my hormone prescription and to do my blood work now and then? But I know it is time to bid Dr. Alpha adieu. Upstairs in the next building, I have my scheduled appointment with Dr. Weary and I am already running late.

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