By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Friday. Another day with yet another appointment. My biggest meltdowns so far have been over the abundance of appointments. There have been SO many.
Today’s appointment is just a consultation with Dr. Ilahi – the Radiation Oncologist who will administer what will hopefully the final phase of treatment, at the end of the year. She is in the same practice as my oncologist, Dr. Perez, but she is in another office in another neighboring city. It is MUCH bigger and MUCH busier than my small office nearby, but hey, I gotta do what I gotta do.
I was ushered to the back within a few minutes of arriving and checking in, and soon was waiting in an exam room with Harrison sitting in her stroller – NOT being quiet, by the way. I finally got The Lorax rolling on Netflix on my phone (God I love technology), and soon she was quietly watching when the doctor came in. After introductions were made, she began asking my history: discovery of the lump, time frame of mammogram to surgery, when was chemo to start, etc. She then asked about my PET scans and realized that while she and Dr. Perez had conferred over the phone on the day of my last appointment with HIM, she did not have the scan results right in front of her to refresh her memory. She excused herself for a few minutes and went to print it out from my record, and returned to discuss. Dr. Perez had not been too specific when he told me that the cancer had spread, but rather just told me that it was in several of the intramammary lymph nodes (that can’t be taken out) and that I would need radiation. I appreciated that over the next several minutes, she took the time to explain that the PET scan results don’t specify how many nodes, but just whether or not it lights up on the scan in small or large amounts. I guess on mine, it lit up in several nodes, in small amounts. She also told me that it lit up in one node in my left collarbone area, in a tiny spot of an area. What??? I know that this may not seem like a big deal to most, considering that it had spread, so what’s one more node, right? Well, it was a big deal to ME. I had a minor little freak out there, spouting off that Dr. Perez had failed to share with me the fact that it was up near my collarbone as well. Dr. Ilahi was very understanding and told me that it should make me feel better that it was only a tiny spot in that location. Yeah, great. She then went on to explain to me that after I finish chemo, we will wait a couple of weeks, get me fitted for my radiation stuff, and then start 6 ½ weeks of daily (Monday through Friday) radiation treatments. Um, what??? I know that THIS may not seem like a big deal to most, but it was a big deal to ME. Dr. Perez had told me that it would be “about four weeks” of radiation at the end of chemo, but here I was, hearing that it would be 6 ½ weeks – 32 or so treatments. I was already upset enough that I was having to even do radiation, and now I am hearing that it is longer than I was initially told. I know that she, the radiation oncologist, ultimately made the call on the length of treatment and NOT Dr. Perez, I was still stunned to hear it. Fortunately for me, Dr. Ilahi was very calming and reassuring, and somehow made me feel okay about venturing down the radiation road eventually, even if it DOES totally freak me out.
She then asked if she could examine me, and she went over my scars and all of the edema that I have. She was very personable, asking about my family and my life. Once she was done and I was dressed again, she asked if I had any questions. My last question was about staging. I told her that after surgery, the surgeon had told me that I was officially a Stage 2b. I knew that the discovery of cancer that had spread had surely changed my staging, but when I had asked Dr. Perez about it, I wasn’t really given a direct answer. It seemed that nobody wanted to answer me, and while it may not be a big deal to some, for some reason, it was a big deal to ME. She responded so sweetly, saying that no, she understood me wanting to know, and that this raises my stage to a 3. OK. That was all I wanted. I had been afraid that it raised me to a stage 4, and that nobody had wanted to tell me. It was actually a relief to hear that it was a 3! I asked what that meant for my odds, and she said that with medicine and technology now, there was no reason for me NOT to beat this and live a long life. Will I see her grow up, I asked, as I pointed to Harrison? She smiled and said, “I don’t see why not.” She then walked with us back up to the front, chatting in the hallway, and hugging me goodbye at the door. I left feeling good, rather than scared of the next step, and super confident that I had been given the perfect match of a radiation oncologist for me. And while that may not be a big deal to some, it was a super huge, big deal for ME.