Saturday, May 18, 2013

Trust and Dr Z

The latest vlog: Prosthetic Breast Show & Tell, Cancer Q & A. More of my videos here.

Every six months Dr. Z, the specialist who did my mastectomy, examines my remaining breast and the chest wall on the other side. It's not uncommon for breast cancer to grow back in the scar or just underneath it, but so far, thankfully, this has not happened to me.

Last week was my fifth follow-up with her to date, and I'm struck by how much less I worry. The rocky road of breast cancer has become much less rocky these days — knock wood.

It was Dr. Z who sat with Jim and I for two and a half hours explaining my diagnosis. She was a stranger to me then, a stranger who had the daunting task of impressing upon me that I required some major, life-altering and risky treatment, despite the fact that I felt just fine. Despite the fact that I didn't automatically believe she had all the answers.

I remember the tension in the room in that long first visit, and the suspicion I felt that the tension was not Jim's and mine alone, though she responded candidly, patiently, and respectfully to my ten thousand questions, reassuring me that she would give me all the time I needed.

It struck me then that this job can't be made any easier by the fact that she has to do it regularly. Perhaps there was an emotional burden for her. So I asked about this too, my ten-thousand-and-first question.

Too often, she admitted, a scared woman diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and a good prognosis will simply walk away. In these cases, Dr. Z can only hope that the patient will go on to find quality care elsewhere. But sometimes she'll return at a later date, having risked it all on some unproven alternative therapy, or having done nothing but curl up inside herself in fear. Now the cancer has grown, sometimes right through her skin. She's stage four. What could have been a bump in the road has become the end of the road. "It's heartbreaking."

Last week, after completing the exam, my doctor confessed that she had worried, in the beginning, that I might join the ranks of these women. "But you trusted me," she said, her voice breaking just a little, her eyes moist. "You were very brave. And I want you to know, it really means a lot to me."

I like this doctor a lot. Jim likes her. My brother David, who came along to one of my appointments in the early days, likes her so much he named his cat after her. Dr. Z thinks this is a cute thing my brother did, that it has everything to do with how much he loves me and not much to do with how impressed he'd been by her.

That's what she does, this doctor of mine. She deflects compliments. But on my blog, I get the last word and I intend to use it. Because if it wasn't for the trust she extended to me, in all her patience and openness and devotion, my rocky road of breast cancer could have been a whole lot rockier.