Saturday, December 22, 2012

Angels in Oncology

What can I write about oncology? In so many ways it is unique and individual. I had my first treatment on Wednesday, December 26. The day after Christmas. I could write about that first day; that first treatment. I could write about the preparation and the post-care. I could write about the needle in the back of my left hand and watching the drugs drip into me; waiting to see if there would be an allergic reaction. But all those things are meaningless without the Angels.

My doctor. She is a scientist, a healer, and a compassionate, caring soul. There is supposed to be a professional detachment between doctors and patients. I don’t believe that is possible if a doctor really cares about their profession. No, I don’t go to her house during the holidays and we don’t exchange birthday presents. But through it all I watched as she cared for me and others. She laughed at my jokes and answered our questions. She is personable and knows about my life outside of the doctor’s office. She works hard for her patients and is researching ways to prevent breast cancer recurrence. I am impressed by her willingness to share this part of her life with me.

Lauren. Lauren is a nurse practitioner. I met Lauren while she was still working on her Master’s Degree. I asked her why oncology? She said that she is specifically concerned for women with breast cancer and wanted to focus her career on breast health. She has no personal connection with breast cancer, yet feels called to care for us. She spends her time asking medical history questions, answering concerns that arise, and reassuring the scared and anxious that together, we will get through this.

Elaine. Elaine is a volunteer. She wanders the oncology ward stopping to ask patients if they need anything. She brings crackers, and ginger ale, and ice cream. Over the weeks and my subsequent visits she shares her story with me. She is also a breast cancer survivor. She had all of her treatments right there at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Now she spends every Wednesday as a volunteer; giving back to the hospital that helped save her life. I nicknamed her the Ice Cream Angel.

Myrielle. Myrielle is an oncology nurse. She was the nurse assigned to me. There is very strict protocol when it comes to the handling and administration of chemotherapy drugs so the nurses work in pairs. But Myrielle was the one to prep. me and watch over me to make sure everything was going well. She is also very happy. I asked her once why she was so happy all the time; especially working in oncology. Her response, “Because I am happy and I want to share that happiness with you and the other patients. You need happiness and hope. And at the end of the day I get to go home and count my blessings.” Myrielle is still there and she is still happy.

These are my Angels in oncology. And I am thankful they were sent to me in my time of need.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmastime is Here

The Christmas season makes me a little sad. Five years ago I was in the darkest place imaginable, during a time that is supposed to be filled with happiness and light. I had just had surgery and was finishing my law school studies while recovering. Additionally, I was meeting with my surgeon for post-surgery follow-up and my oncologist to plan my next phase of treatment. I found myself keeping quiet. It was difficult to share with others what was happening to me. I wanted to keep it to myself; get through it all and just move on. When I thought that I could go through chemotherapy without anyone knowing I knew I was in trouble.

My oncologist wanted to start chemotherapy as soon as possible after my surgeon gave the ok. My first treatment was December 26.

So as I reflect on that time in my life I remember the darkness; the feeling of being alone. And yet I was not alone. My husband was by my side every step of the way, keeping silent vigil. I knew in my heart that God had a purpose for all of this. My family, friends, classmates and colleagues rallied in unimaginable ways. I was surrounded by love and devotion.

But Christmas time also brings me great joy. I love the lights, the decorations, the music, and getting together with friends and family.

And I am reminded of another scared and lonely woman facing her darkest hour. Whether Christ’s birth occurred in December or at another time of year, the story is the same. A scared, pregnant woman who faces the darkness of being shunned by family, friends and society. Who has to leave her home due to government regulations and taxation. Yet by her side is the man who is her husband; unfaltering in such a horrible climate. She knows that there is a purpose for her life and in her circumstances. God has promised joy beyond what is happening to her right here and now. She has been granted grace to carry on, knowing that there is a reason for this season in her life.

We all know the story, and we can all relate. Because Mary's story is our story.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In the Beginning

Some blogs have themes. Some blogs are personal reflection. My blog is a story of healing and hope. The intent is to share my story. Upon reflection, it seems that it is the story of who I am today. However, my history comes through and the purpose is to share it with you in hopes that you find inspiration in the grace that I have been given.
A co-worker of mine believes that it is always best to start at the beginning, so I am going to try that. Over the next several weeks I will share my story of five years ago. Five years is a long time, so I will rely on a journal I kept, my memory and my current reflections of the past. I guess I could say that my story started in October 2007, but really it started before then. I just didn’t know it at the time.
When I was 35 I had a base-line mammogram. Everything seemed alright and I did not have another until the age of 40. At 40, and each following year, I dutifully fulfilled my obligation to have a mammogram. Each year I had a second mammogram followed by an ultrasound only to be told that I had a cyst and should cut down on the caffeine. Until the age of 43. At 43 I started with my annual physical only to have my doctor send me for an ultrasound. The ultrasound resulted in a visit to a surgeon who ordered a mammogram and biopsy. None of it was real. There was no history of breast cancer in my family. Even when the surgeon told me I had breast cancer I said, “No I don’t.”
After those initial appointments my life became a blur. We decided to get a second opinion in Boston. My initial surgeon was supportive and only asked that if I chose a different treatment team to please let her know so that she would not wonder what had happened to me. We decided to go with the Boston team.
There are some things that I have learned, both from the initial diagnosis and treatment, as well as subsequent reflection. It is important:

·         To choose a treatment plan, team and location that is best for you. The last thing you need is additional stress. I have friends who chose their neighborhood hospital and clinic because of their personal relationship with their doctors, as well as the convenience due to family and other obligations. They received the best treatment possible, so you don’t have to travel hours to find the best.

·         Have a Team of doctors. My doctors were all part of a network of hospitals and clinics. As a result, they talked with each other on the phone and they had access to my medical records through the hospital database. They also met together regularly to discuss my case.

·         Remember that you are part of that Team. Ask questions. Give feedback. Make a phone call if something doesn’t seem right.

·         Let others “do” for you. Your friends and family feel helpless. It is important to give them something to do.

·         Embrace love and be open to God. I received blessing upon blessing and continue to see God’s grace in my life through this journey. I truly believe that friends are God’s way of saying “I love you.” (Even strangers provide God’s comfort).
Blessings & Grace to you. Be well.