Posts Tagged ‘Oncologist’

People told me an array of stories as I entered the next phase of treatment most of which featured radiation as a villain that distorted cell structure, fried skin, and enervated the spirit, so I didn’t want to proceed and challenged my doctors’ protocol.

“If the chemo killed all those fast splitting systemic cells, why do I have to have radiation?” I begged.

Their responses didn’t satisfy me. They may have thoroughly explained the scientific or biological or statistical yada yada; but all I heard was a familiar “because I said so, that’s why, kid.” So my inner teenager slammed her bedroom door shut which terrified my inner child and, in turn, sent my fairly healthy inner parent into a tizzy.

As I’ve repeated throughout this blog, I needed to believe in the course of action I was taking in order to feel confident of success. I have not and I do not endorse a particular medical or alternative healing modality. To me, belief is key. I feel that I, and anyone making important choices, need to aline head, heart, and gut/soul; and that the process of alinement or at-one-ment is the way to true healing from this and probably all dis-ease. Which is to say that I wanted my belligerent inner teenager, quivering inner child, and flustered inner parent to reconcile on this matter of radiation.

My inner parent stood outside the locked bedroom door and reasoned with my inner teen, “the doctors must know what they’re talking about: they’re experts, all they do is treat breast cancer, they’ve seen thousands of women, they’ve been doing this for years.”

My inner teen ‘s response was to turn up the volume and shriek “Killing in the Name”.

My inner child clutched her blankey and sucked her thumb.

Inner parent threw up her hands, “Well, we have an appointment to meet the radiation oncologist today and we’re going whether you like it or not.” I told my selves to calm down – breathe – we didn’t need to make a decision today. Just for today, we were merely gathering information.

“Whatever.” The lock on the bedroom door clicked open and inner teenager, tight-lipped and still fuming, took inner child by the hand to the hospital to meet a new doctor.

Dr. Margaret Torrey, the radiation oncologist at Nyack Hospital, a branch of Columbia Presbyterian that is closer to my home, impressed me as very smart and very nice. She was patient with my questions and gave thorough explanations about why she believed radiation would be the optimum course for me, described the process, and the side effects. The primary message I took from that visit was that the road I had traveled thus far – surgeries, tests, chemo – statistically proves to be the most effective, that my care had been superb, and that the prognosis for no recurrence was great. In her educated opinion, radiation would seal that happy fate.

Inner teenager pumped a fist in the air, “YEAH,” inner child’s thumb popped out of her mouth and she jumped for joy, inner parent glowed with pride, and my whole self integrated in that moment. I determined that I would continue along the prescribed medical path. Of course, I intended to customize my experience though.

There was one story among the scary stories told me about radiation that did not have the same negative point of view. This story came from a friend who was grateful for radiation therapy not only for deleting his prostate cancer, but also because he learned how to meditate while undergoing treatment. He said that his Higher Power, whom he chose to call God, forced him to learn how to meditate by having him sit still for twenty minutes at the radiation clinic each day.

My life style had returned to busy as soon as I had recouped my energy after the summer of chemo, so the idea of a mandatory stillness in which I could meditate excited me. I decided to adopt this man’s attitude of gratitude, and to make the most of the two months of 5 blasts a week of radiation.

And, I intended to get creative in order to minimize and even eradicate those potential side effects.

(to be cont.) L.


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The morning was golden. There was a golden glaze on the river, golden glints on the George Washington Bridge, and the stalagmites called Manhattan were glistening. I had sun and a smile on my face. This was the morning of my last chemo infusion. I would be done with the hardest part of the cancer treatments after this day.

Along with my bag full of chemo props, I carried an arm full of red roses to the hospital to say thank you and goodbye to the folks of the 9th floor infusion ward. It was the 4th round, the fourth element of water, and it had occurred to me that water is a symbol for emotions, but I did not anticipate any teary goodbyes. I liked everyone on the 9th floor alright and was grateful for their participation in saving my life; however, I had no grief about parting ways. Nope. None. On that golden August day I only had my eye on the end point; and, so, I was totally unprepared for the white waters that lay ahead.

The Universe knew that I would need help though.

There was only one other couple in the oncology waiting area when I arrived for my pre-infusion check-up. While Reade, my husband, and I chatted and scanned the newspaper, I noticed that this couple was looking at me. She was a lovely Asian and her male companion was Asian too and, as they glanced in my direction, they exchanged words in their native tongue as if they were whispering behind cupped hands. They were talking about me; and, given her full head of glossy black Asian hair, I guessed that they were intrigued by my bald head. I sensed that she was curious and wanted to talk with me, so I looked at her and smiled. No sooner did the upturned corners of my mouth lift my cheeks, then Anna rushed over to introduce herself. Indeed, she was curious – today was Anna’s first infusion day.

Just as the angel in the auburn wig (last paragraphs of this former post)  was there for me when I was scared about stepping onto the chemo track, I could now be there for Anna. I could pay it forward. I could tell her about lemon & ginger water and assure her that the nausea is manageable and give her a general overall pep talk. I could tell her about the choices that worked for me like the preemptive shaving of my head and how baseball caps were less scratchy than wigs. I could say, “It wasn’t so bad. People cared for me on my down days, but mostly I walked slowly and really paid attention to flowers;” and then, I could hand her a long-stemmed red bud.

We hugged.

And as I moved from station to station that morning – from check-up room to blood lab to doctor’s office – I’d see Anna and her companion, clinging to each other, seeming anxious, and she’d be clutching her rose. Then, when I was finally assigned an infusion chair, and at long last on the west side with the Hudson river views which thrilled me since the element for the fourth round was water, as Fate would have it, Anna was assigned the chair right next to me.

So, when there was a two hour delay as the wonderful singing nurse named Jennifer, through no fault of her own, blew two of my veins and then couldn’t find a vein that wasn’t collapsed so there was an imminent threat that I was going to be sent home, I didn’t panic for Anna’s sake. And, when Jennifer finally hooked me up and the needle hurt, I didn’t grimace, and when another allergic reaction to the adriamycin  swelled me up, turned my eyes bright red, and made me think I was dying until the benedryl shot knocked me out, I didn’t fret out loud. I stayed strong for the entire fourth and final round for Anna.

Anna and I exchanged a few emails in the months to come in which she repeatedly thanked me for the pep talk and the rose, and I tried to convey to her that I did nothing but embrace a gift. And, now, when I reflect, I don’t dwell on how painful and terrifying the experience was, I think only of the infinite wisdom of the Universe that knew that I needed to be somebody’s angel for a day.

In awe,


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Finding a therapist might have seemed daunting given the large supply in the metropolitan area except that I was glad to have a mission to add to my daily regimen of health promoting activities, plus I had a method. I approached my assignment to find a therapist the same way I’ve searched for a house or a job or, once upon a time, a partner/husband: I beseeched the Universe in morning and nightly prayers, and I wrote a detailed wish list.

What makes me believe in the efficacy of wish lists? Maybe I believe because the letter I wrote to Santa Claus produced a Chatty Cathy doll on Christmas morning when I was an impressionable kid. Or, maybe someone suggested a wish list like someone suggested a gratitude list at a time when I was ripe for taking a suggestion, and it helped to relieve my fear of the future for a day. I don’t recall what made me write my first wish list as an adult. All I know is that the sweet 9:00 to 5:00 job with adequate salary and benefits that got me out of the restaurant business manifested within months of making a list. Of course, I had to purchase a proper suit (it was tomato red) and apply to a job placement agency (I flunked the typing test) because actions + focused intention = success. But, truly, it was uncanny just how many of my listed wishes were answered by that job, and then some. My experience is that The Universe has a broader view of my capabilities than I usually do, and is much more generous. Which is why I always add a caveat at the end of my wish lists: “All this or better will come to me swiftly and easily. Thank you.”

So, in the spirit of Jane and Michael Banks in their petition for a “very sweet and very pretty” nanny, I wrote a list of wishes for my therapist. Then, I folded it up and hid it in my God Box. In the days that followed, I did my footwork by calling friends with therapists and friends who are therapists to ask for recommendations, and everywhere I went I carried a list – a list of the providers from my insurance company’s web site – which I would ask these friends to scan. Affordable was a top priority on my wish list. Then, after a week or two of concentrated efforts, I stopped. I stopped praying, stopped asking around, and, effectively, stopped thinking about a therapist. I let go, and let the Universe do it’s work.

Now, letting go is not something I do consciously or easily. It just happens as though it’s organic to the manifestation process. And, usually, I don’t even realize that I’ve let go. It might feel to me like I’ve given up, or taken a break, or that I’m gearing up for the next round of actions, or that I’ve been distracted. Meanwhile, the fallow phase is invariably when the Universe produces with a slight of hand – Voila! – magnanimity.

[Let’s see. Where exactly are we in this long leg of the journey? I feel as though I looked up from an absorbing book and don’t recognize the terrain outside my train window. OK, the sutures are out and the incision in my breast is healing. The tumors are gone. The prognosis is great but not perfect due to a speck of cancer in a lymph node, so I’m waiting to meet with an oncologist to determine what to do next. Right. I’m putt, putt, putting on down the tracks en route to the next great adventure. I’m on my way to meeting my next teacher: the oncologist.]

There are many pages of dream interpretations, meditations, self interrogations in my journal to flip through before I reach the part about meeting the oncologist. Finally, there’s a brief blurb about this momentous occasion. If I were skimming the pages, I might’ve missed it except that I was drawn into a detailed description of a magnificent lucid dream: I dreamt I was towed through the ocean on the back of a huge gray whale. The water, the air, the strength, the speed was palpable. I held on to the whale for dear life for I believed that I had to hold on or die – I was powerless – though, I also trusted the enormous beast to take care of me.

And then:

Today is the day I meet Dr. Dawn Hershman, the oncologist affiliated with Dr. Sheldon Feldman. [see The GateKeeper] In days past, I’ve had some anxiety about what an oncologist will prescribe. Ie. chemo that will kill healthy cells and make me nauseous and lose my hair. My way to cope with the anxiety has been to remind myself that I’m not doing chemo today and to breath into the moment. Today is the day I learn what an oncologist believes. For some reason, I woke up light-hearted.

After this journal entry there’s nothing about my meeting with Dr. Hershman. Nothing. I don’t record how I didn’t find her as warm as Dr. Feldman, but I felt she was very intelligent. I don’t tell how impressed I was by her youth and her bird-like femininity. She didn’t have spiritual icons in her office, though I felt connected to her through the photos of her children. And, I was impressed that her name was on most of the research projects being done by the Breast Cancer Department at New York Presbyterian. But, there’s nothing about her in my journal. Not even musings about how challenging it must be for a female doctor to balance work and family, or how difficult I imagined it would be for Dr. Hershman, a woman, to constantly encounter a sisterhood of amputated or potentially lethal breasts. I didn’t even take notes about our visit: the menu of options that she recommended, the tests that she wanted to run, the perchance that I might be eligible for the new and exciting oncotype dx test (more about this later). I didn’t write about Dr. Dawn Hershman at all then, so I’m glad I’m writing this blog now. My oncologist and her nurse practitioner, Lois, deserve a strong testimony as I will discover and you will learn in the blog posts to come.

Why didn’t I sit with my thoughts about the oncologist and inscribe them for posterity then? My guess is that I was hanging on so tight to that slippery whale that I was afraid to reach for a pen. To write about these matters, that is. I do, however, write about this:

My thoughts about cancer are constant. It seems that whatever I consider somehow harkens back to the primary concern of the moment and I’m so annoyed and intrigued by this. I suppose most of my thoughts have concerned myself always. But, I’ve generally thought in terms of the things I must accomplish, the ways I’m falling short or am not enough, how I’ve viewed myself in comparison to others. Never have I given so much thought to my physical health.

I am afraid of chemo. I am afraid of the side effects. I’m afraid of making a decision that will adversely effect my life for the rest of my days. I’m afraid and at the same time I have some small measure of faith and plenty of evidence of being taken care of by Love through my friends and family.

Just so happens that the therapist recommended to me by the friend that I just so happened to bump into in the health food store has a personal experience with breast cancer. Jean had a lumpectomy ten years ago and is on Tamoxifen.

As it happened, Jean was on my list of insurance providers, practiced within a stone’s throw of my home, and “was very sweet, and very pretty” just as I requested on my wish list. It had never occurred to me to ask for a therapist with a depth of compassion that can only come from personal experience though.

God/Goddess/the Universe is good.

Yours in Awe,


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