Thursday, April 8, 2010

One or Two. One or Two. What To Do? What To Do?

Doctors come in all varieties.

Smug. Personable. Cold. Compassionate. Irritating. Endearing.

Some you want to hug. Others you want to slap. And some of the most irritating ones can actually be some of the best doctors.

As I’ve told Steve over these past few weeks of meeting several new doctors, “I don’t need my doctor to be my new best friend. I just want him to be really good at what he does.”

But truthfully? When you’re going through something like breast cancer, deep down you really long for a doctor who is going to be full of warm fuzzies and remind you in some indefinable way of your beloved, dear, departed grandfather.

You don’t usually get that wish. But it would be nice.

I have two main doctors for this cancer journey. Dr. H. is my surgeon/oncologist. He comes highly recommended by women in our community, as well as by other hospitals in the state. He is brilliant, conscientious, experienced, and fairly personable. But he’s not big on warm fuzzies.

When we arrived for our third visit to get the results of the MRI, he shook our hands, welcomed us graciously, and then went to his computer to pull up the report. He gave the results to us, and then we talked for a few minutes about the pros and cons of the various treatment options.

When I finally (tearfully) realized that I was going to have to have a mastectomy after all, I felt the world shift a few inches on its axis; I felt a bit dizzy, a wee bit disoriented, a whole lot discombobulated.

I had gone in there thinking we were going to all sit in a circle, happily decide on the lumpectomy, chat nicely, sing a few verse of Kum Ba Yah, and then be on our way.

But suddenly the preferred option was gone. And the highly unpreferred option was staring me in the face. Unblinkingly.

As I struggled to get my wits about me and get used to the new reality that had blasted into my life, Dr. H. did something rather, um, annoying. He took out a little form, poised his pen over the paper, looked at me and said, “So, what will it be? One or two?”

Just like that.

Just like he was taking an order at a restaurant. No big deal. You wanta choose one or you wanta chose two?

I’m sure I must have gaped at him in utter and complete disbelief, because he immediately dropped the pen to the desk and said, “Um. Well. Of course, you’re going to want to give this decision some thought.”

Ya think!?

He instructed us to head on over to our plastic surgery appointment (an appointment I had made just in case, not really thinking I would need it) and then come back to his office after lunch to sign some papers.

We collected Sarah from the waiting room and headed out to the car. Since she was anxious about the MRI results, I briefly filled her in and then told her, as calmly as possible, that a mastectomy would be necessary. I held it all together for about three minutes, but as we pulled into traffic, I started to cry.

So much to take in. Such a big decision.

One or two. One or two. What to do? What to do? (As a songwriter, I always like for my crises to be couched in rhymes.)

We hadn’t been gone from the office more than five minutes when I suddenly proclaimed aloud, “I’m going to have a double!”

Steve stared at me in concerned amazement like, “You decided already?”

One or two? What to do? I just knew.

But now, fragile and teary-eyed, I still had to get through another appointment. With yet another doctor. To talk about even more unpleasant things.

Steve and I got ourselves settled into an exam room where he gallantly searched out a tissue box for my immediate use. A few minutes later, while I was still sniffling and blowing, Dr. F. breezed in. He was wearing a blue, surgical type outfit. With red Crocs. Topped by white socks with red trim on the top.

Since there were only two chairs in the room (already occupied by “Mrs. One or Two” and her hubby, too), he nimbly jumped up on the exam table, arranged himself into a lotus position and said, “Hi! So what questions do you have for me?"

I was still on the verge of tears and wasn’t sure if I could even trust my voice. But I managed to sputter out a few questions which Dr. F. answered, not only with impressive medical knowledge, but also with a fine sense of humor and a little (earthy) language thrown into the mix.

Now, while I am not a big fan of earthy language, I am a big fan of people who are just themselves, regardless of where they are, or what they’re doing. It’s refreshing to me. And Dr. F. made me laugh. If someone can make me laugh when I’m on the verge of being an emotional basket case, then they have already earned their fee. And then some.

We got on the subject of the drains that I will have to wear for a couple weeks after the surgery—two on each side. He said, “I won’t lie to you. The drains are a pain.” (Ahhh. I thought. A rhyming phrase.) “Most women hate them and can’t wait to get rid of them.”

He then went on to describe what they would look like, where they would be, and what their function would be. I replied dryly, “Wow. They really sound quite delightful.'”

He didn’t even miss a beat. He came right back and said “Oh yes! They are actually very festive!”

Well, something about applying the word “festive” to drains put in after a double mastectomy just struck Steve and I (the inveterate wordsmiths) as very, very funny.

And then suddenly all three of us were laughing like slightly unhinged hyenas. I’m sure anyone passing that room would have never guessed that its occupants were discussing a double mastectomy.

So is laughter really the best medicine?

Well, it won’t cure cancer. I do know that.

But it will cure a hurting heart. And it will help a traumatized pastor’s wife in North Carolina realize it’s not the end of the world, whether she chooses one, or whether she chooses two.

And you know what? During the upcoming surgery, neither of the surgeons present will be removing my funny bone. And they won’t be excising my appreciation for a well-chosen word. And they won’t even be able to find the parts of me that make me who I am.

So I feel like I’m getting off pretty lightly. Yes, I’m losing a couple things that are quite important to me. But in doing so, I’m going to survive. And I’m going to live a long, healthy life.

And whether I live that life with none, or one, or two—does it really matter in the long run?

Nope. Living is what matters. And if my life can be enlivened by some unexpected laughter along the way? I will know that I have lived well.

19 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

Rebecca, UK said...

I have to admit, I haven't had much experiences of dealing with doctors, but I do know what you mean....years ago, when my friend and I were about 13 or 14, she went to the doctor to discuss some, ahem, problems relating to her bottom. I went with her for moral support and so on, as she didn't feel comfortable telling her nan about it (who she lived with). The doctor, after hearing about the problem, very unceremoniously gestured towards the bed, said , "get up there then" and proceeded to do a full examination without offering her even the privacy of a curtain. When she got upset, as you can imagine it was quite distressing for her, he grunted and told me to go and hold her hand, as if somehow this would stop her crying and make it all go away. Afterwards, he just sat back down, told her what was wrong and then offered her a sticker, like they do for small children. Thinking back, she maybe should have complained as it wasn't very professional for either of us really but we didn't and it's now water under the bridge. However, it definitely put me and her I think off going to the doctors for quite some time, especially seen as we live in a small town where there are only 3 doctors between our town and the neighbouring one.

Anyways, story over - many, many hugs and prayers going your way everyday - I really hope you get a buyer on the house in Smithfield soon!

tylersmama said...

I think a doctor that can make you laugh in dire circumstances is the best kind of doctor!! I know all of these decisions are so overwhelming Becky, but I know you will do what is best for you. Personally, and I realize they're not my boobs, but I think a double is the way to go! It's icky but it's over and done with and you can move on with your life. I have a very good friend here who is my age (30) and has the BRCA gene and is getting a prophylactic double mastectomy next week. I have been to several appointments with her and the things they can do reconstructively these days are amazing! I know you will get through this beautifully Becky, and we will all be right here praying with you!!!


brilliant, brilliant post. thank you.

Saffyres said...

I love your PS (plastic surgeon). Your BS (breast surgeon) sounds a bit crass. I love BOTH of mine - it was my ONC (oncologist) that I despised. So I fired him. :)

Hey - about those drains. I'm going to tell you yes - they SUCK (literally and figuratively). The BEST THING YOU CAN DO is this: get paper tape (not adhesive tape - PAPER TAPE, in the gauze/bandage aisle) and tape the tubes from the JP drains to your skin, very near the insertion point. That will keep you from being jolted with pain (discomfort, whatever you want to call it) should you accidentally "nudge" the bulbs. Also, when you shower, put a ribbon around your neck, loop the ends of the ribbon through the loops on the drain bulbs, and they'll be out of your way (and you're less likely to pull them accidentally).

Hmmm. What else? Oh yeah - you will NOT pull them out, no matter what you do. Trust me. AND - ask for drains with "hubless" internal tubing. Trust me on this.

AND! Go get yourself a couple of these camisoles - they have pouches for your drains, and they offer a bit of compression, which may (or may not) make your chest feel better:

Carrie B said...

I love your writing and want to thank you for sharing all of this with us!
I think you have the beginning of a "I survived, and so can you" book here! Seriously.
I hope you laugh today. :)

lesley said...


I have lots of experience with docs and totally relate to this post and your feelings. One of my Sarah's doctors is really (yuk) but he knows his stuff quite expertly, so I keep him :)

And can I just say that I know you wanted to lose weight...but isn't this double considered CHEATING????

Hello??? Not fair!

Saffyres said...

Wryly laughing at the weight loss tactic:

Bilateral mastectomy got me EXACTLY 1 pound lighter. (Yeah, mine were small)

Anonymous said...

I burst out loud reading this. :) And I have NO idea what these festive drains are for, though I have my suspicions. I think I will have to go google! Jill

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Becky! Loved it!

Anonymous said...

Praying for you in Minnesota!

Robin said...

Thinking of you. All the best with your journey.

Deb said...

You go girl! Hugs and prayers your way!

Anonymous said...

A doctor that can make you laugh, and even laugh with you, is worth his/her weight in gold. Anytime you can lighten such a heavy moment is wonderful! Praying for you in AL!


Bridgette said...

Just want to say what an encouragement you are even in the worst of situations! As for the dr, I completely understand. My mom had surgery in February for cancer and her dr. was the same way...not much "bedside manner," but supposedly one of the best in his field. He did the "job" and got it all and that was exactly what we wanted! Suddenly, we didn't care about "bedside manner!" Hopefully, this will be the same scenario for you! Hang in there! A positive attitude goes along way and you're definitely heading the right direction!

Sue G said...

When I started reading this update, I started working my comments out in my head. It seemed so obvious when the first doctor posed the pointed question, "Well, what'll it be, option one or option two?"

The obvious answer was, "I choose life!"

And then I kept reading.

And I realized that you got there all by yourself.

Yep. Life. A very good thing.

Vikki said...

Hiya, sorry to hear you are going to have to have a mascetomy, a family friend was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 2 years ago and had one side removed. She went through chemo and radiation and then decided to have the other side removed too, she said she really wished someone had adviced her to have them both done at the same time.


Becky, My friend just posted an article called "Reflections", an honest thoughtful essay, written by a doctor, on what he learned when his wife died. He lists the characteristics doctors should have, the things they should remember. I thought you would really appreciate it. I think Dr. One or Two should read it.

Blessings on your day.

Thanks, again for visitng my blog. It delighted me to see your comment.

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