Today I had my 2nd routine check up with my oncologist at the hospital. It was my first trip to the cancer center since I’ve finished all of my surgeries, and it turned into a very emotional visit.
In some ways, it was just like my old chemo routine from the summer.
1. First stop is for blood work (yuck). The nurses were so kind, they all seemed to be honestly happy to see me, and happy to see that I’m doing well after the summer of chemo.
2. I hadn’t realized they were going to draw blood, (thought it was going to be just a finger stick) and when they took out the rubber to tie my arm off, I cringed, but it barely hurt – these nurses are soooo good at this. They have to go in my hands these days, ’cause my arm veins are still kind of messed up from the chemo. I had a flash back when the nurse pulled out the curly tape they use to keep you from bruising (in pretty and breast-cancer-appropriate pink).
3. My blood counts were all very good, the nurses were happy (so was I).
4. Went down the hall to meet with my oncologist, Dr. B. I was bemoaning the side effects of the Tamoxifen and he said, “That’s good, that means it’s working, and doing its job.” That put a new perspective on things for me, I hadn’t actually thought of it that way before. Because my particular type of cancer was Estrogen positive, Tamoxifen helps reduce recurrence by 50%. So….goodbye to complaining about hot flashes. I guess it’s a small inconvenience when I consider the benefits.
5. He talked to me for a while, asked how my fingers and toes were doing. Last summer my finger and toenails were all curly and discolored and wacked out from the 12 Taxol treatments. So bad, in fact, that on my last day of chemo, he told one of the interns that mine were “the worst he’d ever seen” which was kind of a surprise to me. I knew they were bad, but hadn’t realized they were quite THAT bad. I told him they were back to normal and he seemed very relieved.
And then I went down the hall further to the back of the center, where all the cancer patients are sitting on comfy lounge chairs, while getting their chemo. It was eerie in some ways. The thing that struck me the most was how crowded it was. Every seat, every room, was filled. Fridays were always the busiest days.
I had brought a plate of brownies and chocolate chip cookies for the nurses. Such a measly gift to offer to these women who saved my life; who were my angels during chemo. I saw my favorite nurse, who gave me a big hug and asked: How did my surgeries go, how were my fingers and toes, so nice that my hair was coming back in. She kept looking at me really intently and seemed so happy that I was doing so well. I guess it must be sad for them; I’m sure many people don’t get better, and those that do, probably don’t want to come back and see them.
Then I surprised myself and burst into tears. I kept trying to tell them all how much I appreciated what they had done for me, but the words weren’t actually coming out the way I wanted them to. I think they understood.
Then after that, I went to see my Guardian Angel, Pam Vlahakis, the Hunterdon Medical Center Breast Cancer Coordinator. Pam is an astounding woman who can move mountains for “her” breast cancer patients. She’s got a beautiful southern accent, but make no mistake, this lady is a steel magnolia. I feel lucky to have had her “on my side” through this process. In the beginning of my journey, she helped me get a speedy appointment with the best breast cancer surgeon in NJ. Later she helped me get a 2nd opinion with the best breast cancer surgeon at Fox Chase Women’s Cancer Center in PA.
Right before my chemo started, she helped me very diplomatically and gently, but swiftly, switch oncologists (when the first one wasn’t quite fitting me to a T) and she always made me laugh throughout. And to top it all off, she’s beautiful and bright and energetic and just plain fun to be around (which is quite a feat for someone who’s only reason for being in your life is because you have cancer). It was good to see her again today. And, always the good nurse, she reminded me not to let my newly created breasts get too much sun, on our trip to Cancun, because that new skin will burn badly. Love her.
After all that, I got in my car and drove home. I cried for a bit and then jumped back into my busy world by stopping off for a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and some Boston creme donuts. Yum.