I see strength as the ability to put one foot in front of the other, physically, mentally, or emotionally, when the very last thing you want to do is put one foot in front of the other.
It’s been very hard to put one foot in front of the other for me, metaphorically speaking, over the last two weeks. Surgical complications, moving, moving complications, and seeing Dr. O. My mind built each event into huge mountains, each felt insurmountable, but every morning, I got up, got dressed, got the kids off to school, went to work, did my job, and I came home. I put one foot in front of the other. No matter what I faced the last two weeks, no matter the precipice I stood upon, I did what I could do to live my life.
On Friday (Sept 16), one year after a surgery placing my port, I walked into Texas Oncology at Baylor Dallas, took an elevator to the 4th floor, waited and had my blood drawn, and then, holding hands with A, we walked into Dr. O’s waiting room for a brief wait. I was called back, A came with me, and I did all the pre-seeing Dr. O stuff -weight, blood pressure, temperature. I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost, but over the course of this year, I’ve lost close to 30 lbs, and I continue to work to lose weight. If I lose another 20 lbs, maybe another 30 lbs, I’d be ecstatic. My blood pressure was very good. Very, very normal. Same for my temperature. I always run a little cool, but it was well within the normal range. The appointment started well.
While A and I waited for Dr. O, we talked about our questions for her. Then, she came in the room. Dr. O is a force of nature. She’s tiny, maybe 5’1, but she exudes confidence, positivity, and ease. She reviewed all my scans and tests and my latest blood work. She’s still not happy with my blood counts and put me back on iron. I told her I needed 2 units of blood after my surgery. She made a note then motioned for me to hop up on the table so she could do her physical, clinical exam. She made A and I laugh very, very hard when she opened the robe her assistant gives us to wear. Her comment was, “Ooooh, these are nice. Very nice. Who did your work?” I’m pretty sure my face turned purple from embarrassment. I told her Dr. L had done it with assistance from Dr. P. She was very pleased with those two names and told me my reconstruction had been done by two of the best in Dallas. We talked about the recent complication…the incision hole and why Dr. L wants to leave it open for it to heal from the inside out. She agreed with him. Then, she went back to the computer to make a few orders and startled us because she exclaimed, “Wait a minute! WAIT just a minute here!” Considering we hadn’t moved, neither A nor myself had a clue. Even her nurse looked confused. “Today is the 16th!” she said. Again, confusion from all parties. Her nurse cleared her throat, and Dr. O turned back to us and told us she hadn’t realized my appointment was also my last Herceptin appointment.
“Well, we do need to talk about things, don’t we?”
Sometimes, I can’t help but laugh at Dr. O. I really feel like her brain goes 100 miles a minute and she’s ten steps ahead of everyone in the room. This appointment was one of those appointments. You just kind of buckle in and hold on as she goes.
“So, you’ll go downstairs and get a chest X-ray. It’s been a year, and we need a new one. It shows me things the blood work can’t show, but I don’t want you to worry about it. I know you, though, so you’re going to worry. I’ll get the X-ray on Monday. If you haven’t heard from us by Tuesday, the X-ray was clear, which means, we can say, you are NED, no evidence of disease, which I believe you are and have been since February. Now, if the X-ray comes back with a surprise, which I again, I don’t think that’s going to happen, we’ll get you back in here with a game plan. I’m going to tell you not to worry about it. Think of this X-ray like your yearly pap or physical. It’s just something we do, not because we thing we’ll find something, but because it’s what we do. So, don’t worry about it.
“I know your question. It’s going to be some version of ‘Now what do I do?’and here’s the answer: you come see me every 20 weeks instead of every nine. I watch you like a hawk. We scan only if somethings bugging you for six weeks or more or if something so acute happens, like that headache you had back in March. I don’t expect that to happen, though. Still, you like to know all the what ifs, and I know it makes you comfortable if you know the what ifs, so that’s the what ifs. You’re going to stay on tamoxifen. I’m going to give you the name of an obgyn I work with. You’re going to call him and tell his receptionist you’re one of my girls and you need a hysterectomy. You go meet him, decide if you like him. Sometime in the next six to eight months, when you’re healed up from this DIEP, you’ll get a hysterectomy and we’ll start talking about switching you to arimidex.
“After today, your life goes back to its new normal. You go on. That’s all anyone can do. You go on. You survived this year. You’re going to survive more years. You go on, you come see me every 20 weeks, and we’ll see what we see.”
Then, Dr. O gave me a huge, bone crushing hug, gave A a hug, and that was it. Her nurse gave me an order for an X-ray, told me to go check in for my infusion treatment then go get the X-ray to cut down on wait time at infusion. She also told me Dr. O would send an order to Dr. H to order port removal, and that would be that. She left the room, and it was just me and A.
I cried. He tried not to cry. I pulled on my R2D2 shirt. He grabbed the bag I take to treatment. We took deep breaths and left. I went to make my follow up appointment for February. He went to the second floor cafe for food. I made my way down to infusion, checked in, left my stuff there, and went to radiology. I had the X-ray done, and then I went back to infusion.
I’m semi-clear. If my cell phone rings and says Texas Oncology between now and Tuesday, I’ll know imaging did not go well. There’s nothing I can do, though, so I’ve actually done as Dr. O said-I haven’t worried about it. That’s huge for me.
Right now, I stand on a precipice, holding onto a slim, sliver of hope. I wait. But, I’m not going to let the wait rule me. No panic attacks over the wait. No worrying about the wait. I have enough to think about, and I’m not going to worry about something Dr. O isn’t worried about, either. I’m going to go on, hope my phone doesn’t ring, and that’s it. That’s all I can do.