Monday, September 19, 2011

The Alien - Part Two: Confirmation

At exactly 9 am on Monday morning I phone the surgeon’s office and schedule an appointment for 2:00 Wednesday afternoon. Making the appointment feels like progress and it calms my exaggerated fears.

Monday and Tuesday go by quickly as I am distracted by Rebecca’s preparations for her return to school in Santa Fe on Thursday morning. I am not ready to tell anyone except Gary about my news. I certainly don’t want to derail my daughter and her excitement about the new school year. For right now two people worrying is more than ample.

My annual physical on Tuesday morning gives me an opportunity to ask a longer than usual list of questions. The doctor responds to my paranoia by patiently checking me over with even more than his usual thoroughness. We both laugh when I point to the biopsy bruise and tell him I am eager to extract the alien lurking beneath.

On Wednesday afternoon, I give Rebecca an excuse about a neighborhood meeting and meet Gary at the surgeon’s office. The petit young doctor sits down across from us placing her delicate hand gently on my arm. Her first words are, “I’ve looked at the test results and I want to assure you this is treatable. I can safely say you will not die of breast cancer.” She goes on to talk about a lumpectomy and six weeks of daily radiation therapy as the recommended treatment option. “The first step is an MRI to give me more information on the location of the growth and to make sure there isn’t any other issue.” Turning to Gary she says, “We don’t want to melon ball her breast. If we see anything new, on the MRI she will need a mastectomy.” More for the worry machine to work on, I think to myself.

Although the doctor is caring, knowledgeable, and thorough, the hour-long discussion and exam followed by a 45-minute session with the surgery scheduler leaves me feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. I walk out of the office with a stack of forms, an appointment for a bi-lateral MRI the following week, and a September 13th date for an ultra-sound guided wire localization followed by a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. Whew!

Cancer treatment has improved in recent years, but I wonder what future generations will think about our response to the disease. Will they find it as barbarous as we view blood letting with leaches? Surgeons carve out parts of our tissue leaving deep visible and invisible scars, harsh chemicals are pumped through our veins, and powerful radiation beamed at our most delicate parts. I want to know what causes cancer, but of course there is no money in that line of research. What unknown hazard did I taste, touch, breath, stand next to?

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