Medical Breakthrough

“I have an appointment with a new specialist, and I can’t wait to go,” said no one, ever.

It seems that once we get those 2×3.5-inch squares of red, white and blue imprinted with the word “Medicare”, we are inundated with more specialists than we have body parts.

I don’t know about you, but I am unwilling to spend my days waiting in poorly lit treatment rooms eagerly anticipating the arrival of a medical professional who is unlikely to give me good news. In fact, I have been waiting for 60 minutes for the dermatologist to show up in this clammy room to conduct a “body map.” For the occasion, I am decked out in a paper gown with a waist string that shredded when I lightly tugged on it.

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What Doesn’t Kill You…

Makes you stronger. If this were true, I’d be lifting 25-pound barbells rather than squeezing a ball to build strength in my hands after cancer treatments.

Throughout my life and especially as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a variety of phobias about the medical institution. The way they come at a person with their needles, stethoscopes and bad breath is enough to make you turn against them.

I think it’s true that entering the realm of medicine as a cancer patient was likely one of the worst decisions the universe made on my behalf. It is a portal to enter the closest opening to the gates of hell.

I wish I’d prepared better for my brush with white coats and bad hair days, or, in my case, no hair days, thanks to chemo. Proof that my initial foray into this world was rife with immediate misery.

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Personal Winter

Since I completed treatment for cancer, I experience a Polar Bear Plunge year-round indoors or out. My radiation ended in November, but it wasn’t winter yet and the temperatures hadn’t reached below the 40’s. Yet, I was welcomed to the opposite of hell weather, yet hell, nonetheless. I am immersed in frigid cold no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

My treatments wreaked havoc on my body that interfered with my ability to get warm. I developed a severe case of Reynaud’s Syndrome. Signs and symptoms included cold fingers and toes, color changes to my skin in response to cold or stress. Shortly after my second round of chemo, my fingers turned blue and felt cold and numb. The patient techs were unable to obtain an oxygen reading of my fingers because of their coldness. I began to experience blisters and cracking of the skin on my fingertips, which the doctors found baffling. While they acknowledged that Reynaud’s may be the culprit, they had no suggestion to minimize my pain and discomfort. Their words of comfort: “It will get worse before it gets better.”

And they were correct. I became virtually incapacitated with fingers that hurt 100% of the time. I was unable to button my clothes, prepare a meal or dial a phone (not true, I don’t have a rotary phone although I would be unable to dial it if I did).

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Daily Reminders: I’d Rather Forget

As if I don’t have enough to forget, every day I am given reminders of how my life has changed. And usually not for the better.

Until not so long ago, perhaps as recently as last week, I harbored dreams of riding my bike down hills and through forests, hopping over logs and rocks that might get in my way. But just as I was blurting out to my husband my plans to polish my mountain bike and hit the open trail, he does what he does best. Destroyed me with the truth. “Now, Janet,” he said in that sing-song voice that makes me want to commit murder. “Your bones are brittle, you just finished chemotherapy and you probably don’t even own a pair of bike pants anymore.”

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Be Careful What You Wish For

I have toyed and tampered with the content of this blog over the years. It started out as my call to action to stave aging, whatever it took, which wasn’t too much at the time. Ah, the good old days! Then it changed course and became a chronicle of my experiences with the health care system, which intensified when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. As I have waxed and waned with what medicine has to offer, I waver between serving as patient and caregiver (to my husband). The next iteration of this blog is that of band aid, mental health professional and otherwise salve to my creaking body and soul as I use humor to make my way through my own personal wilderness.

When I wished for patience as I approach my 70th year, the universe misunderstood and made me into a patient. This is a role I am not prepared for, and I admit to kicking and screaming all the way to, in and out of the infusion room.

Are there life lessons for me to gain from this experience? Perhaps a crisp note-taking ability, as I write verbatim “You have cancer” while the surgeon delivers the news. Maybe learning to bite my tongue rather than shriek at the phlebotomist who clearly met her match with my “slippery veins” (her phrase) as she fished through my veins like a polar bear on an ice floe. Then there is learning to trust medical providers who have shifty eyes and sport the smooth cheeks of a recent high school graduate.

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