Friday, October 5, 2007

What Not to Ask

Upon learning about a cancer patient's disease progression, do not ask questions such as, "So, this is something that they'll just treat and it'll be fine, right?" Or, similarly, "But, did he/she say that this really isn't such a big deal?" Additionally, after a patient's consult with a specialist, do not ask questions such as, "So, this is going to do it, right?"

Why? Because you are asking the patient to assuage your fears. Not only can the patient not do that, they likely have no interest in doing so. They are having a hard enough time keeping their own fears in check. Managing yours is your problem.

I offer this helpful reminder: Stage IV breast cancer is disease that has left the primary site and has invaded other parts of the body. Current imaging techniques may not allow physicians to see all of those places, but in all likelihood, the disease is somewhere, even when scans come up clean.

So, I will be having gamma knife to provide local control to specific sites in my brain. Is it going to be fine? No, it's not.

I have to get a frame screwed to my head and keep it there for about five hours while they MRI my brain and then take the time they need to map the radiation. Further, during the MRI, which is going to be more finely sliced than my routine MRI, there is the possibility that they identify additional sites. Should those sites be numerous, they'll bag the whole gamma knife thing and start considering whole brain radiation which, just like it sounds, is when they radiate the entire brain.

But, let's not go there. Let's take the most positive scenario. After the scanning and mapping and waiting, I'll get my head screwed down to the treatment table so I am immobile while they shoot beams of radiation at my head.

But before then, I get to think about this for the next week or so while things get scheduled. Of course, ruminating on this will be even more fun while in transit to the medical center for the procedure in New York City metro traffic.

After this procedure is done, I will able to resume my standard I-have-incurable-cancer anxiety level. I will continue to need chemotherapy as it is the only tool I have to try to keep my disease at bay.

I am a hopeful, smart, spirted and determined person. I am not an ignorant person or worse, one who is in denial. I cannot make this situation better for anyone. Don't ask me to pretend.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Makes sense. And helpful.

But I wonder - is there anything that you actually are relieved to hear as a reaction? Anything that's comforting or at least helpful?