Three years ago I would have had no idea how many doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals I would meet in the course of being treated for cancer. The medical personnel associated with the cancer center are numerous enough, and even more so since it's located within a teaching hospital. I still have vague memories of seeing a little procession of baby doctors following the head resident into my room the morning after my surgery. Let me just say neither he nor I were at our best that day. A couple of months later, when the same resident made a rather cavalier and callous statement to me while I was suffering from neutropenia, we had our revenge: my husband immortalized him to our email group as "Dr. Houselet." Both senses of the name were appropriate, believe me.
Fortunately for me, most of my experiences with medical personnel have not been that bad. I have several favorites: one of the chemo nurses in the clinic, who was always patient, kind, and reassuring; one of the phlebotomists in the cancer center blood lab who is an absolute master of a painless blood draw; one of the chemo nurses in the chemo infusion lab who was equally as skillful with an even harder task. The night nurse when I was hospitalized for my surgery was a seriously competent woman who helped me avoid a breathing crisis; she and I have become friends after my discharge. I think fondly of one of the women at the infusion reception area whose cheerful welcome every time I went in to face the ordeal made things just a little easier to take. I don't know for a fact that this is a promotion, but now this woman is actually working the main reception desk for the cancer center, and I think she does a good job of spreading her particular gift for reassurance there too. I remember them all with gratitude (and I ask for the one superb phlebotomist every time).
And for the most part, I appreciate the rest of my medical brain trust as well. Although I sought a second opinion way-back-when because I was appalled that my original oncologist was recommending what was often considered a palliative treatment, now I'm glad I didn't make the switch. Early on, she seemed to me like a cold fish, but now I think of her more as reserved and reluctant to deliver bad news. We have developed a rapport, which I have for my part been nurturing by bringing flowers from my yard for her staff room each consult. In fact, most of the time now I count on her to help me identify some of the flowers, since I don't always remember them myself. Most of the rapport comes from my insistence on getting as clear an answer as I can get to my question. I think she respects that and responds to the challenge. Recently I even encouraged another woman with endometrial cancer--whose first oncologist is the one I sought out for a second opinion--to check with mine to see if the remedy I've been taking might be a good one for her. Each quarter I have a follow-up consult there is yet another fellow tagging along, but for the most part they've been curious, solicitous, and proficient. I have to assume that Dr. Houselet is the exception, and that my oncologist tends to provide a good model for her residents and fellows.
For that matter, I should acknowledge the gynecologist who performed the D & C that led to my diagnosis, and who made the original referral to my oncologist. I did not know this gyno at all well when I had the D & C; we'd had only one meeting previous to that. But her compassion and concern when she gave us the bad news were genuine, and even in that terrible moment she was reassuring. She was also human in ways that many other of my doctors simply have not been, telling us about the travails of her sister-in-law who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Under the circumstances, it didn't strike me as being a boundary violation, or TMI. Instead, I took it as an indication that she really did appreciate how scary and intimidating it was for a family to have to deal with cancer--and that it was still possible to make it through.
I've had excellent care from an osteopath, whose gentle and skillful manipulations helped ease my collarbones and ribs when my lung nodules were being reabsorbed and causing me pain. She's also the doc who suggested testing my Vit D level, which was at a seriously depleted 12 when it was first checked. Both my acupuncturists have been very good as well. The first one did a great job at pushing back my neuropathy and persuading me thereby that acupuncture did have something to offer me. The second one has been very good at helping me maintain my emotional and physical equilibrium now that I have achieved remission.
My Ayurvedist probably deserves the most credit for helping me to maintain an even keel emotionally, however, and I daresay that her other remedies are probably significant in my recovery as well. She helped get me through the first crisis, when I really didn't know which end was up, and she's a constant source of support to me to live my life fully.
So far, I'm pretty pleased with the team I've assembled, and thankful that I live in what I've heard called a "resource rich" environment. That is indeed true. I do not know what would have happened to me had that not been the case.
My questions for you tonight have to do then with the professional health-care workers who have impressed you the most. What roles were they in? How did you encounter them? What did they/do they do that made a difference for you? Do you see them regularly, or was that a one-off experience that made a big impression?
Now I suppose if you want to complain about some less-than-stellar personnel, that's OK too. But that could be its own diary, no? Tonight, I could use some positive vibes. So let's honor those who have gone above and beyond, whether they know it or not.
Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.