We all struggle. We all have issues. We all feel pain…physically, emotionally or both. I hate seeing others suffer; and I have seen a lot in the last 18 months. Yesterday, I saw my oncologist at the Cancer Centre. It is a beautiful building with lots of windows and plants. It’s halls are filled with smiling volunteers that wheel trolleys laden with coffee, tea, juice and cookies. It is a place full of hope and a place full of despair.
When you “check in” at the oncology department you are given an ipad to fill out a wellness questionnaire. You do this each and every time you go for any appointment. It asks you to rate out of 10, your pain, anxiety, appetite, fatigue, nausea, sleeplessness, mobility and overall well being. The Cancer Centre keeps a record to follow your progress over the days/months/years that you are dealing with cancer. And of course, each person will rate their symptoms according to how they feel. That’s just it! How can someone else know how I feel? Hell, most days, I don’t even know how I feel. It’s a moving target. If I answer that I am feeling extremely anxious or suffering with a lot of pain, will they look at me in disbelief? I mean, if you LOOK at me, I don’t look like I’m suffering…but I’m a master of disguise!
As I sat filling out my questionnaire, I could hear the conversations of three women sitting right behind me. They were all fighting breast cancer too. One had had a lumpectomy and was on her third round of chemo. Another had undergone a bilateral mastectomy and was on her second round of radiation. And the third had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to meet with the oncologist to discuss her game plan. She was sharing how very scared she was as she had just last year lost her husband to bone cancer…he was 39!
I managed to keep myself in check until I was shown into the examining room…and then I lost it! I felt the tears come streaming down my face as the overwhelming weight of cancer and all it does to destroy people swallowed me up.
My heart went out to these women, and quite frankly to all the people I see at the Centre. People of every age, race and background. People, who like me, had to fill out their “wellness” survey too. What kind of answers did they have? How did they rate their pain and anxiety? How are they managing with all this!?
I managed to pull myself together and clean up my mascara streaked face before my oncologist came in. She greeted me and joked that I have had a lot of hospital time lately given I had surgery December 20, 30 and 31st.
“Yep, it’s been a bit of challenge, but I was determined to get all the bad stuff done before the end 2019. I just made it under the wire!!”
She laughed and asked, “How are you feeling? Nope, forget I asked. I’m pretty sure I know you’re not great.”
Hmm, that obvious? I thought I looked pretty good. Oh yeah, probably the puffy eyes and runny nose from my crying bout gave me away.
She examined me and asked if I had any questions.
I asked if the pain in my armpit that runs the length of my underarm would ever go away. She responded “Not likely.”
Great, add that to the list. She reminded me that I am never to have a mammogram again so to continue doing self examinations and if I find anything to tell my family doctor right away and have an ultrasound immediately.
“Given the fact that I can’t have mammograms and I now have a history of breast cancer, shouldn’t I have an ultrasound regularly as a precaution?”
“That’s not how it’s done,” she said. “If you find something, that’s when we will take a closer look. If the cancer returns, then you will continue to see me.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like my oncologist, she is a dynamo and has a great reputation…but I don’t want to see her….ever!
She finished her examination, I got dressed and left. Walking through the waiting room there were now other people there. What were their stories? How were they filling out their questionnaires? How did they rate their pain and anxiety?
I’ve had friends and family tell me that they don’t want to share their problems with me because of what I have gone through. My answer is “This isn’t a competition. Your worries, illnesses and problems are just as relevant and important as anyone else’s. Please don’t hold back with me. I want to listen and help just as much as I did before my illness. In fact, I think I want to be of help even more. We are all flawed. We all have problems…and we all need help. We can’t judge. We can’t compare. We can’t keep score…because no one is a winner if we do.
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.