Life in the Cancer Lane

What’s the remedy for self-torment? Self-doubt? Are they two sides of the same coin? Where do we find the antidote for fear, that mind killer, that little death? That perpetual back-of-the-brain resident that destroys the place where it’s housed? Many women postpone fear until it’s safe to feel it, ie, once the source for the terror is past, or once her mind is empty of all else, the better to confront it. But in that space, fear rips up the carpet, burns down the house, stalks the graveyard where she’s already planted her coffin.

What brought that on, you might ask. Well. Yesterday was my oncology appointment, that omg moment for many of us who experienced, and survived, cancer. I would be seeing a physician new to me. My oncologist had moved to San Diego, and while I entertained the expense of traveling there twice a year to see him, I sort of knew that was ridiculous. The interim doc was a disaster, a man at the top of his field, but bone weary for having to carry an extra practice, chair a department and still be a husband in his spare time. Not. He was angry, over-stretched, and delivered that up to his patients. He was a holy terror and I hope never to see him again. So I gathered up my catatonic self and drove to my appointment, writing my will in my head. Willing myself to stay on course and not cancel. Trying not to cry. You see how far out on a limb I can go, right?

B/P was kited, of course. But no one gets upset. Staff expects that. Soon I was escorted to a large exam room where I waited with my clothes on, per instruction. Shortly, the man of the hour appeared, soft smile, quiet greeting. He sat down at a small table with a computer screen and dialed up my mammogram. Normal.


Normal, he said. I asked him to repeat that. He turned the screen so I could see. Normal. Look, never has that screen said normal mam for me.

We chatted about where I live and why. Turns out he’s planning to move here too, because of the fine schools for his two children who are yet very young, but he’s planning long term. He invited me to share information about myself beyond my cancer journey, and before I knew it, I think I made a friend. This skill, so often missing in doctors, was impressive in this man. I could feel my b/p dropping to the normal zone.

Heider Mahdi, MD, gyn oncologist, might be the kindest, most approachable physician I have ever met, and, given my career span, I have met countless docs. His skills are readily apparent, leaving no doubt that I was in very good hands. Reassuring, gentle, informative, connected, this young man exhibited everything an anxious patient requires to climb down from the wall and relax. His demeanor encourages trust and confidence. Thorough, I felt less an object to be examined, and more like a respected female who has been through a war and come out winning. I think I might even have heard applause.

The Cleveland Clinic has been my cancer residence across the three and a half years. Dr. Madhdi told me my kind of cancer rears its ugly head again in the first 24 months, if it’s going to. After that, the incidence reduces quite a lot. Good to know, since I tend to worry in advance about everything. I had not heard that timeline before. Know that he doesn’t carry around a crystal ball. But he did have the ability to tell me where I am on the page of this book that occupies nearly every thought.

Turns out all my fears were for naught. I have a couple more blood tests to do, and nothing more except to return in May again for the same drill. But I can say, with relative confidence, that since these are just monitor tests, neither my doc or I expect a monster. Caution is the byword for those in my shoes. But that is a good thing. Catching stuff really early promises a good outcome. That should be my mantra, don’t you think?

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