Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Have An Awesome Oncologist That I Wish I Didn't Have

Just when I thought I was sailing through this cancer thing, reality hit me square in the face when I had my first visit with the oncologist.

I had no idea just how thorough an exam I was to get when I went to my scheduled appointment. Had I known, I would have worn different underwear and shaved my legs. There's a back story behind the unshaved legs.  I had just had my nipple surgery the day before and was not allowed to get the bandages wet, i.e., no showers. I toted my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, towel, etc., to the downstairs bathroom with the idea that the smaller bathtub would be easier to use than the big jacuzzi tub in my bathroom (it wasn't), but it wasn't until I was already in the tub that I realized I had forgotten the razor and shaving cream. But no big deal, right? The oncologist is only going to be talking to me, going over my pathology reports, bloodwork, and treatment options, right? Hah!

Thanks to the tornado, the oncologist's office is now located in a trailer behind the only remaining building in the St. John's complex. It was so hot in the exam room that I began to wonder if poaching the patients was part of the treatment plan. Dr. Croy came in then, and when we mentioned that it was a liiiiiitle warm, he said, "Welcome to Trailer Town." 

The exam began with him asking me what events had brought me to his office. My first instinct was to say, "YOU know," since I knew that he did, indeed, know why I was there, especially since his wife was one of my babysitters in the hospital. But there he sat, with his legal pad and pen and an expectant look on his face, and I laid out the entire story for him, trying to disassociate that we had been friends for a dozen years before he became my oncologist. (I have always said IF I ever had cancer, I would want David Croy to be my oncologist - just never thought I would have a need to follow through with it.) It was only minorly uncomfortable when I had to tell him extremely personal things (you know, the same personal crap that I bandy about on my blog like it was nothing).

Next, he had me undress down to my panties (which I heard as "take off everything AND your panties" which, thankfully, he heard me repeat and corrected me before I made it really awkward to sit by him at church). I had a lovely paper gown to put on that included a rather short strip of something resembling a kitchen trashbag to use as a belt. I was already sweating from the stifling heat in the exam room and the paper gown did not decrease my discomfort. My skin grew damp with sweat, triggering an unbearable itch under the tape covering the bandages from my nipple surgery. 

The doctor started out looking in my eyes, nose, throat. Then things got more complicated. He had me do things like follow his finger with my eyes, squeeze his hands with both of mine as hard as I could, and push against him then pull him towards me as hard as I could with my arms (which hurt my incision and oh-so-tight stomach muscles). The next series of tests involved my legs and feet and had me wishing I had at least put lotion on, although maybe my dry feet and legs distracted him from my failure to shave. I didn't fare well at this game of Simon Says, because he fired directions at me so quickly that I couldn't keep up and was pushing when he said to pull and bending when he said straighten. 

He asked me to lie back on the table so he could feel my abdomen, at which time I found out that I had sweat so much that I had to peel myself off the table in order to scootch back and lie down. Finally, he had me get up off the table and walk across the room (which I think I did pretty well), then do the heel-to-toe field sobriety walk (which I DON'T think I did pretty well), and then he directed me to get dressed. Now it was time for HIM to talk.

I wish I could remember everything Dr. Croy said to me. I can't. (I was concentrating on not breaking down and bawling.) He talked about chances of recurrence and different treatments that would lower, but not eliminate, those chances. My breast cancer is estrogen-receptor positive, roughly meaning my cancer cells need estrogen to grow, and eliminating estrogen in the body will (hopefully) prevent the cancer from growing or recurring. It also means there is a good chance that treatment will be in the form of a daily hormonal therapy medication, rather than traditional chemotherapy, which is delivered in approximately four sessions, three weeks apart. The hormone therapy is for post-menopausal women, and since I have clearly demonstrated that I am NOT post-menopausal, the good news (here comes Pollyanna and her glass-half-full) is I would be MADE to be post-menopausal. This could either be in the form of injections into my stomach muscles (pass) OR the removal of the ovaries. YESSSSSS! AT LAST!!!  

Dr. Croy is waiting for an additional pathology report to determine whether we will go with hormonal therapy or chemotherapy.  I do know the immediate future holds a chest x-ray, a bone density scan, a colonoscopy, and (yay) the removal of my over-achieving ovaries. 

What I did firmly grasp from the doctor is that as good as my pathology report was (clear margins, clear lymph nodes), I am not home free. This whole thing is far from over. In fact, it will never be "over." Vagabond cancer cells could be anywhere in my body, lying in wait. And there's still no backsies.

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