The Oncologist

Tomorrow I’m heading back to see the oncologist.  A quick recap: he is studious, often serious and I was told some people find him rather terse. He also came highly recommended on the basis I could cope with a scientist who holds a passion for his subject, has considerable clinical trials expertise and presents the facts in a sans-sugar-coating, say-it-as-it-is kind of way.  It’s true he wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea because small talk and social pleasantries aren’t his thing. I knew I could live without those but the same could not be said for a well-constructed third generation treatment regimen designed to tackle very aggressive HER2+ breast cancer.

When I was in active treatment I made it my mission to find some way to make the oncologist laugh every time I saw him.  Despite the various cancer shenanigans and associated torments I managed to retain at least a smidgen of my naturally playful, sometimes mischievous (in a harmless kind of way) spirit. So tomorrow I’ll be in his office finding another way to make the man who averts death smile and laugh because let’s face it, 12 hours a day 5 days a week managing various forms of cancer is hardly fun, even if your success rate falls in the upper quartile.

I haven’t been back to the hospital for some time now and if it weren’t for the follow-ups I’d avoid going back there at all costs.  It’s the place where my life switched from relatively stable to completely FUBAR in a matter of moments. It’s the place I associate with a tranche of memories I’d happily erase if permanent amnesia happened to be available in tablet form. It’s a place where the staff are brilliant, my treatment was excellent and as far as I know all traces of the mutant cells terrorising my body were eradicated. Unfortunately it will always be the place where cancer and me were forced to become far too familiar with one another. That acquaintance lasted much longer and caused far more damage than any of us is led to believe so I might just have to strangle the next person who says breast cancer is an easy cancer, the best kind of cancer or anything that remotely infers treatment and recovery is a walk in the park. Oops… I lost my playful spirit for a moment there.

Thankfully my oncologist chose to be an oncologist instead of an actuary, a computer programmer or an astrophysicist. For that I will be eternally grateful. For cancer I will not.

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12 thoughts on “The Oncologist

  1. Ugh, thanks for discussing the association of a hospital or place with your cancer experience. I do that too. I hated going to the cancer center for follow ups or support group meets. I don’t even like driving by the place, but it is sometimes unavoidable. I also just don’t like ANY medical office now. Not sure I’ll ever break the associations.

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    • You are not alone. I have two very negative hospital associations – the place my Mum died which was hugely traumatic (18 years ago and I still avoid it) and the treatment centre where I have my check-ups. I don’t know how to disassociate the experience from the place, no matter how nice the people are.

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  2. A long time ago I recall a discussion on your blog about resilience and, of course, that’s as true today as it was then. I’ve been reading a book lately, though, that puts a nuance (turns it on its head, actually). It’s “Antifragile” by N N Taleb and the premise is this: there are things and systems in this world that are more than resilient. Rather than just withstanding stress they, in fact, become stronger as a consequence. Weightlifting gibes a simplistic metaphor for what he’s talking about. By stressing your muscles through repetitive exercise the damage that ensues results in something that is stronger. In the fairly lengthy book Taleb points out system after system that shows that property and also shows our systematized preference today for ones that do not show it, unfortunately.
    So just yesterday while I was thinking that it’s been a while since you posted and wondering if all was well with you (how coincidental that you posted the very next day) it dawned on me that you would find much to consider in that book. I recommend it. Oh, and if you are really interested you should first read his previous one “The Black Swan.”
    Overall, you see, I’m wondering if there’s an antifragile element to your whole experience with cancer. Not resiliency, no, something more and maybe Taleb’s book describes it well.
    Glad to hear from you and hoping that the visit goes well.

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    • Thanks Maurice, I am a big bookworm so will invest in Black Swan (sounds like me already) and Antifragile. I think perhaps there are some antifragile properties that have developed as a result of my experiences and I suspect they may well be useful in a number of different ways. My ability to deal with stressful situations has certainly increased exponentially alongside my ability not to worry about things outside of my control. I will read the books and ponder the contents, it sounds like there is something meaningful in there and anything that helps shed light on what is often a confusing and disconcerting set of circumstances is welcome 🙂

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      • There’s a couple of add-ons. First, Taleb’s written voice is decidedly egotistical and self-serving. Second, his disdain for editors shows as the books are messier and much longer than they should be and third, and most importantly he frequently takes it all too far, engaging in mean-spirited rants and unsupported grandiose claims. I found his stance on doctors to be particularly infuriating. So why do I recommend the book? Two reasons. One: his essential idea is powerful and worth considering. Two: even though I find much to disagree with in the books I have to admit that reading it constantly makes we think and to question everything he asserts. Sometimes he’s right and sometimes he’s not, but either way I find that the read is a nice guided exercise in critical thinking.

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  3. i will be thinking of you, and looking forward to hearing just exactly what your playful sense elicits from your oncologist. I know these visits are not easy and one would like to be able to do away with them. but I admire your mindfully thinking – putting your self as best you are able to imagine how difficult your oncologist’s job is, and being so reflective about how much your appreciate his expertise – good roads to go down when it’s so helpful to get outside of ourselves. much love, Karen xoxo

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    • Thank you Karen. You’re right, it is very useful to get outside ourselves and I am often guilty of being locked in a world of internal thought, reasoning and rationalisation (not that the latter always works). I will post about the visit… I did manage several laughs this time and in a strange way I sense he is glad of that xoxox

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  4. I will keep you in my prayer tomorrow. I thoroughly understand when you say you hear people say it’s the easy cancer. I’m happy that I am cancer free after the double mastectomy, but it was a journey, that’s for sure. Occasionally I find myself thinking of reconstruction surgery, but that’s mostly something I go through when I see I have no nipples. Heehee … more than you needed to know, eh?
    Good luck tomorrow. And if do get a reaction (a smile would be nice) out of your oncologist! 🙂

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    • Thank you so much. No nipples is such a give away isn’t it. I look like a cross between a tattered Cindy doll and middle-aged woman – nipple-free plastic fantastic one side, nature taking its course on the other. It is not the most convincing look but fortunately clothing is required at all times in this inclement northern climate so no-one else gets to see. Later this year I hope to achieve a matching plastic fantastic look but the clothing still isn’t coming off even if we get a 50 degree heatwave!

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      • For sure!! Having both removed, I’m lucky I don’t have to worry about having an even look. I think I’m too much of a wimp to get nipples tattooing done. 🙂 Same here for the weather, however, I am happy to sit in the backyard, with privacy, where I’ll indulge wearing just a tee shirt!

        Did you manage take your oncologist smile? 🙂

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