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“I’m Feeling Totally Empowered”

Meeting an oncologist seems so daunting.  Yet we were so excited to meet her.  We knew it would be a long appointment.  We heard she was thorough and with one appointment before us we ended up waiting a good 90 minutes.  We had had many discussions this week. I think we were both nervous.  All I knew is that I didn’t want my wife to have to go through chemotherapy.  It is such a toxic solution.  On my way back from the restroom I heard the fellow tell her colleagues, “they’re a nice couple and will be very receptive to options”.  We had met her a few weekends before when we were having drainage leaks on a weekend and she patched her up.

After the wait, we filled out more forms and met the fellow, the resident, and the pre-med student who crammed in the room with us.  You’d think that meeting a fairly well-known oncologist you’d think of a big oak desk surrounded by books.  Well this wasn’t Marcus Welby.  We pused into a tiny 8 x 10 room and the wait was finally over.  She told us the Oncotype number.  An 11, which means an11 percent chance of recurrence.  Tamoxifen hormonal therapy would put that number at 7%.  Chemotherapy would not be recommended!  A smile hit our faces.

Then the information hit us like stats on a Wall St. ticker tape.  25% of all cancers are undetectable on mammograms, tamoxifen is sometimes not metabolized by women, soy is not necessarily recommended product as tests are being done to check its relation to breast cancer, ……..it hit like a dumptruck of information being thrown on my head and my hand got cramps writing everything down.  Fortunately the pre-med student was typing notes away as the oncologist spoke.  Thorough and reasonable in her presentation, the oncologist laid out the basic plan for us and then gave us alternative trials with names of drugs and tests that i could not even begin to spell. We’ll have to peruse these options before our next meeting, or we could just email her our decision.

She did turn to me and ask me at one point how I was doing and what questions I had and thanksed me for attending this session and being supportive of my wife and others.  This woman knew everything.  I told her I was concerned because my wife, some aunts and both of my daughter’s grandmothers had breast cancer.  She took notes and then told me I needed to be tested as well to see if I carried the gene that could possibly be passed to my daughter.  I gulped.  Wow.  Sure i will get tested.  When my wife goes to get tested for the Braca gene, so will I.

The only time I felt uncomfortable was when they started talking about the side effects of tamoxifen and the other therapies: Tiredness, osteocrenosis of the jaw, menapausal symptoms, loss of libido, hot flashes…sitting in a small room with 5 women, all I could do was look at the tips of my shoes.  I cracked a small joke and everyone laughed.  They were uncomfortable too.

Three hours after we entered the clinic, we walked out hand in hand and I could recognize a little skip in my wife’s step.  “Are you okay?” I asked.  She smiled and said, “I finally feel like I’m in control.  I feel empowered”.  It was not the answer I thought I’d get, but I definitely could understand her thinking. 

We’ve still got a bit of a way to go, but this is a move in the right direction and quite possibly the beginning of the end of this chapter.  As we sat at home we discussed how surreal this all felt.  Cancer?  No chemotherapy? No Hair loss?  It just seems like we’ve been groomed to think hair loss, cancer and chemo go together.  Well, maybe this is just part of the new age of medicine. 

It sure works for me.

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