Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Most Personal of the Impersonal

Exam rooms are almost always a dreary shade of white or pale green. Sometimes, a diploma hangs on a wall, but not often. Usually placed here and there, cardboard displays advertise how you too can be wrinkle free in only a lunch hour.  Mixed in might be pamphlets describing various breast reconstruction options and always American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection.  The room is always freezing and the table paper always crinkly. There isn't an element of warmth to be found or a single sign that I belong here. It screams sterile, clinical, and when the doctor walks in...a stranger walks in.

Unless you've experienced it, you might not realize breast cancer is more than a physical fight. Its sheer nature attacks your emotions. Your sense of self shrinks away as it pushes you out of your comfort zone, forced to endure scrutiny and the hands of strangers.

Yes, they're doctors doing their jobs and I want them to be better at it than anyone working a job anywhere. Having new doctors, these people I've never met before, comes with the territory. I accept it's a necessary part of the equation that makes up my new reality.

Cancer + Many New Doctors = Survival

So, Breast Surgeons, Plastic Surgeons, Oncologists, come on in. Welcome to my life.  I don't know you, but here, feel me up and while you're doing that, tell me something personal about you because aside from the stellar credentials I read off your internet profile, I don't know a damn thing.  Are you married? Kids? Cat person or dog person?  From my vantage point, this probably shouldn't be the info that matters, but it does.  I need this relationship to be a little less impersonal.

What do you know about me? You know my mother and aunt died from this disease and that my biopsy didn't turn out as I had hoped. Do you know I have two little boys?  Do you know my husband and I went to Russia five times to adopt them? Do you even want to know who I am outside this room?

Does any of this matter in the cancer long run? You bet it does. To get better I have to strip bare, mentally and physically, time and time again. I have to let go of inhibitions, modesty and the very body part that defines the line between childhood and adulthood, and to some women, the essence of motherhood.

For me to accept that, I at least need my male doctors to know something other than my family history. I need them to understand this doesn't come easy, on so many levels other than the disease itself.

Cancer's world is filled with strangers, surgeries, high-tech scans, drugs and blood tests. It's an endless stream of follow-up visits back to those very cold rooms. From the outside looking in, it all seems very impersonal...but it's not. Just the opposite. It's personal. So very, very personal.

4 comments:

  1. Well said Stacey. Why are these offices always so cold ? And they wonder why it's difficult to get a vein ??? Here's a thought. Try turning the temperature up past meat-locker. And what about those desk receptionists aka holier than thou gatekeepers ? Is there a school that teaches you to be that rude ? Years ago I called out one of these gatekeepers after she was particularly rude to me. She apologized and then said "I'm having a bad day". EXCUSE ME ????? YOU WORK IN AN ONCOLOGY OFFICE !!!!! Here's another thing. When you go for that very first visit it's like you're the Queen of England. People just couldn't be nicer. 6.5 years in, I may as well be chopped liver, metaphorically-speaking of course.

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  2. Anna, I can't believe someone in an oncology office actually said that to you. As if things aren't hard enough. And yes, the vein thing. That's always an issue for me, too. Thanks for reminding me, I might write about it.

    Thanks, as always for reading.

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  3. Stacey, This is an excellent post. You really summed up how a lot of us feel. There are soooo many doctor appts especially in the beginning stages. I felt like each time was another tiny notch added onto my "humiliation" belt. I know no one intended for me to feel that way, but I did. Repeating my story over and over and being examined again and again. Now things are better since whether they wanted to or not, my doctors know me better - mostly because I engaged them in conversation. I think sometimes they are afraid to get too personal. Sorry this got so lengthy. You got me going!

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  4. Thanks, Nancy. I agree with everything you've said. It's funny (not really) we're all so different in some ways, yet parts of this "journey" affect us all the same. It's true, it has become a bit easier to see these guys since it's been more than a year and a half, but I never lose sight of how personal all this really is and that will never change.

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