From the category archives:

Emotional Support


Something in Dr. R’s message does not add up. First I have an old pneumonia scar. Then it is radiation damage on the left lung lobe. But I had my right side radiated.  If anyone could solve this mystery, it would be my radiation oncologist, Dr. Alpha.

I call Dr. Alpha’s number, fully expecting to get his voice mail, but he picks up on the first ring.

No, he never took any x-rays of me, but I had a CAT scan before I started radiation. (How could I possibly have forgotten that?) He will look at it and call me back.

In less than an hour, Dr. Alpha is back on the phone. He has compared my  CAT scan from five months ago with the new one. The 8 mm granuloma on my lower left lobe does not worry him. It was there before I started radiation and has not changed at all.

“More worrisome,” Dr. Alpha tells me, “is the growth on the lymph node just below your heart.”

I try to steady my voice so it will not quiver. All my bluster and bravado from my days of radiation have  evaporated. I hear how meek and scared I sound. He must have heard it too.

“They never told me anything about a growth under my heart.”

“No, they wouldn’t. They try not to give you all the information. You want to come down and see?” offers Dr. Alpha. “I will show it to you and explain.”

I want to take him up on the offer and drive down and see for myself. But I also do not want to crash into his busy schedule. What do I know about x-ray images anyway? I did not even know you had lymph nodes under your heart. I will have to take Dr. Alpha on his word.

“You definitely need a PET scan,” Dr. Alpha says. “This needs to be fully investigated. I will schedule one for you.”

“But I have one scheduled for tomorrow at 1 PM. I guess I have to go ahead then?”

“Yes, you do. I will read it and get back to you as soon as it is done,” said Dr. Alpha.

I feel doomed. Dr. Alpha’s words – this definitely needs to be investigated – throb in my ears. “Investigated,” has a serious ring to it, like a grand jury inquiry or Senate investigation. And, yet, the idea that Dr. Alpha will get to read my PET scan calms me and reassures me. I know he will level with me no matter what the outcome.


Stock Photo

Dr. Guru meets with my family in the waiting room. Big grin, face mask dangling around his neck, arms raised, two fingers on each hand formed into the V for victory signs.  No cancer in frozen lymph node section. So far everyone agrees. Big wide margins. Some  heard only “wide” margins, but not “big wide” margins. One thought he said only “good margins.”  Another does not recall anything about margins.

Whatever he said, everyone is jubilant. The cancer “episode” is over.  The drive home takes 20 minutes. We stop to fill a prescription: a small brown plastic container filled with — Wow — FIFTY Percocet!   Good bye pain I don’t have. Hello euphoria.

In the living room, the mantel above the fire place is filled with flower arrangements. Calla lilies, Gerber daisies, roses of all kinds, delphiniums, chrysanthemums,  hydrangeas, and freesias fill the air with their perfume, lots of get well cards.

Our family lounges in the sofas and chairs around the large coffee table. Snacks and munchies are brought in .  After all, it is dinner time. Wine is poured for everyone but me. (I get water. One indication that all is not fully back to normal.)  A couple of neighbors stop buy. The phone rings. A friend brings over a water melon salad and a chicken salad. My sister in law brings a bag of fresh bagels from Goldberg’s  along with various spreads. The atmosphere is that of a festive wake.

Normally, during casual family gatherings or Sunday dinners, people arrive late or leave early. Some excuse themselves to check emails, or make cell phone calls, turn on the TV  to catch the last few minutes of some game, or sneak away to play billiards downstairs. All signs of a certain restlessness, an eagerness to escape the tight family noose. Not today.

Like on  Christmas Eve, everyone remains seated: content and mellow, we bask in the glow of  togetherness.  I feel their warmth and concern, happiness about the outcome.  We even play a few hands of my favorite card game in a concession to my status as Queen for a Day. (Although they don’t let me win.)

At 11 PM, I go upstairs to prepare for bed. I am not particularly tired and I feel no discomfort. Dutifully I swallow a Percocet because my husband reminds me of the nurse’s wisdom: “Take them before you start to hurt. It is easier to prevent pain than to chase it away. ” Plus who wants to hear “I told you so” should I wake up wreathing in pain.

When I roll over on my side, I feel a tighness, tenderness, in my swollen, bruised  breast. A pleasant reminder that I still have that breast,  and that it is now tumor free. Post operative treatment options are completely off my radar screen as I drift off to a night of uninterupted, dreamless sleep.


Little Pink Bows Everywhere

August 13, 2009

Before my diagnosis, I paid no attention to pink bows, the symbol for breast cancer awareness.  But now that I have been initiated into the pink bow sisterhood, I see pink constantly and everywhere. It is obviously a powerful marketing tool. Water bottles,  T-shirts, hats,  and slippers are decorated with pink bows. There are pink […]

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Dr. Guru, I Am Mad. Where Are You?

August 7, 2009

Thursday, I only have one thing on my mind, one thought circling my brain like a  hungry wolf.  I want to go under Dr. Guru’s scalpel, I need for him to get rid of my nasty, ugly tumor. Now. Not a word from Dr. Guru’s office.  Not a word about the MRI results.  Not a […]

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How to Lie with Statistics – or Just Ignore Them.

June 27, 2009

A perfect day to hang out in our wonderful pool, the one extravagant purchase we do not regret. It is large and deep, filled with cool turquoise,  mildly salty, water, soothing to both body and soul. My friend Cecilia comes over and gives me “The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer.” (Winner of the Ross Kushner […]

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My Blue Journal

June 21, 2009

At lunch before my doctor’s appointment, Marie gives me a care package: one of the presents is a blue vinyl journal with a cheerful green flap to close under a pink loop (I do not connect the pink loop with the pink cancer bow. Somehow I am still able to ignore the pink breast cancer […]

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A Bittersweet Lunch

June 21, 2009

Before my scheduled check-up with my new gynecologist, I have lunch at my friend Marie’s invitation. She picks Anise, one of my favorite lunch places, one with so many memories of earlier, happier, days when Marie and I both had sons and our sons were both in the International School, a few hundred yards away. […]

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Finding an Oncology Surgeon on a Late-Summer Friday Afternoon

June 20, 2009

On my drive home from the office mulling over my new diagnosis, I try to think of names of doctors I can ask. My friend B’s husband is a vascular surgeon, he ought to know. But they have left for some medical conference on Corsica. My friend Elise’s husband Dan is a doctor. He teaches […]

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In a Moment of Crisis: Looking to Friends.

June 20, 2009

Thirty minutes earlier, I was told I have breast cancer. It is at moments like this you turn to your friends. I throw myself on the phone to call Marie and Cecilia. Normally, I don’t like to talk about anything personal on my office phone. I am in an office landscape and everyone hears and […]

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Lumpectomy Rhymes with Vasectomy. Must be a Piece of Cake.

June 20, 2009

Although the possibility that I may have cancer has loomed for weeks, months if you include the time I wasted after I discovered the lump, my diagnosis takes me by such a surprise that I do not have a single question for the radiologist when she calls and gives me the biopsy result. And she doesn’t […]

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