Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Oncology, Optimism & Oprah
Today I took my mom to see an oncologist. Pray that you never have to do this.
I made two good decisions this morning: I applied waterproof mascara instead of my regular va-va-voom stuff AND I found a sub for my evening yoga class. Even at 4:00am, I knew that the day would be filled with emotions and that I did not want to walk around with raccoon eyes, nor did I want to face a class of 20 yogis, all looking for spiritual and physical inspiration. Mascara in place and class covered, I faced the daunting task of accompanying my mom to her first oncology appointment.
The trip to Sutter Roseville was quiet and I found myself attempting to fill the silence with small talk, which is not like me. I’d never seen my mom in such a worried state. She may deny that she was worried but her eyes told a different story.
When we arrived in the waiting area, I immediately did what I always do in public places that require waiting…I started trolling for magazines. As my mom checked in, I lapped the reception area and struggled to contain my disbelief and outright anger: There were no good magazines to be had!
In a waiting area where people are on pins and needles with outcomes, chemo treatments, test results, etc, I found it appalling that there was nothing in the way of reading material except for issues of “Cancer & You”, an old issue of “Reader’s Digest,” and a semi-current “Men’s Health.” What are these people thinking??? Of all the waiting areas, you’d think that this would be the one to have an endless supply of super distracting and current trash like “Us Weekly,” or “People,” or hey, I would have even been happy with “Newsweek.”
I settled on “Men‘s Health” while my mom took on the mountains of paperwork. As I thumbed through the magazine, I snuck some glances and noticed that this was the place that people actually came for chemo treatment. As patients would finish treatment, they’d either walk out or be wheeled out in a wheelchair. Several loved ones were being denied entry as the “chemo room” was too full before the long weekend. It was sobering.
While we were waiting, a bald woman was wheeled out by a nurse. My mom leaned over and said to me, “I don’t want B to see me without hair.” “MOTHER,” I gasped, “Please, please, please don’t go there.” I may have said a curse word or two.
Then we started talking about treatment. “I just need another five years,” she said. “I need five years to baby-sit B.”
That’s when I lost it. This had been my plea for the last week: “Please, God, just give us five years. Five years so that B can remember his Grandma Ghee.” Let me say again that the waterproof mascara was a good, good decision.
Once we were in the examining room, I noticed a stack of magazines in the corner. The only magazine that had any female appeal whatsoever was a 2006 issue of Oprah. A super-svelte Oprah, with a super-tight sparkly dress adorned the cover.
“Look, Mom,” I said, holding up the issue. “I actually found a decent magazine.” My mom gazed at the cover, squinted a bit, and said, “Who’s that?” It was a much needed light moment.
We met the nurse practitioner, Laura, who took a lot of time talking with my mother about her history. We then met Dr. B and I knew immediately, that whatever the diagnosis, my mom was going to be in great hands.
Dr. B was profiled in Sacramento Magazine last year as one of the area’s best doctors. She looked like she had just stepped off the cover of Nordstrom’s latest catalog and her personality was that of an insightful professor and a caring therapist. My fears of dealing with a stuffy oncologist who talked above our heads were quickly abated.
My mom’s lab/radiology report indicated a high likelihood of cancer, as was explained by Laura and also by Dr. B. However, the “picture” of my mom’s lungs was not consistent with what would normally be seen in a lung cancer patient. Her nodules are widespread and not localized which led Dr. B to theorize that the cancer could have spread to her lungs from a “primary site.”
Earlier this week, my mom had a scan of her ovaries, which came out clean and she has had regular mammograms and colonoscopies. Given the fact that the blood work-up came back “perfect” and also the fact that my mom has no symptoms of any cancer, Dr B came to the conclusion that we might be working with something else.
Sarcoidosis runs in my mother’s family. Both my grandpa and my aunt had it. Often times, as Dr B explained, sarcoidosis can present as lung cancer. Although this was very relieving to hear, my mom will still undergo two key tests to rule out cancer in a primary site. They are a PET scan, which basically illuminates any area of the body that has cancer activity and a biopsy of her lungs. Dr. B promised to push the tests through, aiming for a diagnosis in two weeks.
As my mom was getting dressed, I looked Dr. B square in the eye and said, “Please be straight with us. You’ve heard the facts, what is your suspicion?” Without hesitation she said, “I think it’s sarcoidosis. I don't believe that we're dealing with cancer here.”
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I took this statement as a glimmer of hope and a huge reason to give thanks. If it is indeed cancer, I know for certain that Dr. B and her staff will make certain that they fight as hard as they can to give my mom more time with B. And if it isn’t, I will have so much more gratitude and appreciation for the love that my mom brings into our lives.