On Friday Ted and I met with Dr. Wallin, my surgeon. I miss my old surgeon, Dr. Medwell. We understood each other. He was sarcastic like me and didn’t waste time telling me stuff I already know. Dr. Wallin … eh… He seems fine. I don’t have to like him; I have to trust him. I have no reason not to trust him, so I guess I trust him? And I understand that he has to tell me everything, I just want to get the hell out of the hospital every time I’m there. I really do not want to be a cancer patient, again. One time was plenty.
One thing I don’t and will never understand is why the right hand of a hospital or doctor’s office doesn’t talk to the left hand. Jesus.
I’m positive Russia knows more about my medical history than the actual places I have had medical care. No joke.
“Were you ever a smoker?”
“And when did you quit? And for how long did you smoke? And how much did you smoke?”
“Did you smoke anything else?”
What else could this possibly mean? So I answer… “Yep, I smoked pot in my 20’s”.
“No, I don’t mean that… we aren’t concerned about that… I mean tobacco. Was it just cigarettes?”
Do you mean like a corn cob pipe? No, I didn’t smoke a corn cob pipe.
Then I realize this woman probably wasn’t even born in 1996 when I quit. She’s asking if I vaped, I guess.
We settle all that… again… for the 909th time.
Then we go through the meds I take. Which haven’t changed in a dozen years. They ask every time. I get it.
Where I live, what I do for a living, who is my primary doctor is (hasn’t changed in 20 years).
Then she says, “And what brings you in to see us today?”
This is the question that SLAYS me. I hate this question so much. I am there because the doctor you work for, the one whose name is on the wall in front of you, told me a month ago I have cancer. Did he write that down anywhere? Do you all use the internet? Or charts? Or is it just post-it notes?
I want their staff to know this. I hate it and it happens a lot.
The Seattle Cancer Institute asked me where my previous cancer was treated? Uh… Are we competent? I’m losing faith guys.
I try really hard not to be totally annoyed but, as you know, I don’t hide things well. At least not on my face. I think I do a tiny bit better with my voice but … maybe not.
We get through all that and Dr. Wallin comes in. I get the feeling that Dr. Wallin has heard that I’m an impatient and annoyed patient. I am reminded of the incredible privilege I have because I am white. And educated. I can be annoying and impatient and still be treated respectfully. I am still believed and listened to. I know this isn’t true for my black and brown friends. I can’t imagine how much more awful it must be for them because it is already awful for me. God, I hate our systems. Every.Single.One.Of.Them.
Dr. Wallin thinks my only option for a cure is surgery. I knew this going in and told myself a thousand times, “a surgeon is going to want to do surgery”. He gives me the information and I forget to ask the questions I want to, but it doesn’t matter. I already know the answers. (It seems to break his heart to tell me I have to bowel prep again. I’m okay. I can handle it.)
I have scheduled surgery for March 15th. Dr. Wallin will remove my anal canal, rectum, and some portion of my colon and create a stoma so that I can use a colostomy bag. And survive.
I’m tearing up a bit as I write that. This makes me a bit sad. I like my body. I use it a lot. I like to do pretend gymnastics. I like to dance and swim. I’m sure I can still do that stuff, but it will be different. I will build a new relationship with my body and get to know it in a different way. Again. And I know, I know with every cell I have that I am so, so lucky to have this option, to be able to have this surgery. That it is luck and privilege on steroids.
I assume I will be at the hospital alone (and without visitors for my stay) because of Covid. (I realize it could all change by then.) I’m okay with that. (Please let me have a private room.) Like I’ve said, I like to be alone. I imagine this will be hard on Ted and the kids. Not being able to be there or come see me. I remember when Ted had surgery, it was March 29th, and it was one of those Seattle days that remind us Seattlites why we live here. A sunny and warm day, people everywhere on bikes and outside admiring the daffodils and cherry blossoms. His surgery was about 20 hrs. I tried to walk around the block but couldn’t take myself far from the hospital. I could get about half a block away before I was pulled back. Despite the weather and the flowers and the sun and air. I kept going back to the waiting rooms. Not that I could do anything but wait. I hope they can allow themselves to have an okay day. I know it will be hard as heck.
I will still meet with my old radiation oncologist on Thursday to understand if and what options he suggests. I do not suspect this will change my decision and I still wonder what’s possible. The advances in the treatment of cancer in the past five years have been 40 years in the making and those advances are only starting to be tested on anal cancer. And it’s highly likely they will be effective. But that’s still just a likelihood. So, just like Ted, I will go for what is most likely to give me longevity. And, like Ted, I will be grateful. Our kids are really smart, cool, interesting, kind people. I’m determined to see what they decide to do with this crazy, glorious, sometimes heart-breaking life.
We had a lovely evening last night with friends in their beautiful back yard and we barely talked about cancer. It was great. Instead, we celebrated their son, a friend of George’s since they were five, and George as they have both accepted at Tulane for the fall. Such fun to imagine this adventure for them.
Thank you for all the incredible support you are providing. The meals are so helpful. Your comments and messages are so helpful. Truly. They lift me up. I am behind on returning phone calls and emails and I’m so sorry about that. I’m often distracted or trying to distract myself. Please know it’s not because I don’t appreciate you because I truly do. I’m overwhelmed by your love and kindness. Please know I am sending love and kindness right back to every single one of you.