February 7, 2002

The room is dark, a desk divides us. He sits, looking down upon me. “You have to stop crying and focus,” he exhorts. I feel the tissue against my face. Where it should be soft, a comfort, it is rough against my already-chaffed skin. Too many tears have fallen. I can’t cry and focus at the same time? I am confused. I can think of nothing but his admonishment, and I cease to hear his words. I know I must capture this information, but I can’t. I shouldn’t be crying?

Doesn’t he know I’m going to die?

He continues to explain “the plan.” I am drifting on a cloud, carried away as I can’t stand to hear the words. I want to scream, and so I sit in silence. His voice is hallow, no feeling as he barks information. This isn’t about him, and he can’t see that it is about me. Feeling like a young child being scolded, I ache. I am frightened, but this isn’t a safe place.

I remember the tape recorder. At least I can capture the words. In an effort to avoid his gaze, I stare at the paper in front of me, watching my pen write nonsensically as a distraction. I stop long enough to glance at John. Is he getting this? Is he going to be able to explain it all to me? How can he possibly be so calm, so collected. His outer quiet hides my inner chaos.

It is a death sentence. I know the books say it isn’t, but the books can’t see inside me. I am going to die, and I am too young.

My son. Oh god, my son. I can’t leave him. I can’t let this disease win. The doctor is right…I have to focus. I dig deep and stop the tears from flowing. I need to shut down the emotions if I am going to survive. I shore up and pay attention. The room seems to be getting darker and darker, but a glance out the window tells me it is broad daylight still. I feel caught between two worlds…both unknown, and neither where I want to be. How did I get here? Two weeks ago I was FINE.

L O B U L A R C A R C I N O M A. The Latin. Is it there to distance us from the disease? C A N C E R. I am too young…far too young. I can’t face the questions of why, so while they sit on the tip of my tongue, I dare not ask. Did I do this to myself? Is this my fault? Is it my punishment? There is no time, no sense, no answer, in asking.

I focus my attention on the task at hand. I am amazed, but hardly understand the words. I have an entirely new language ahead of me.

There are decisions to be made…I know this. I just don’t know who is supposed to make them. Is this man, the man who cares not how much I ache, how terrified I am…is he now in charge? My doctor? I hardly know him, except to say I do not like him. He tells me to schedule my surgery, so I dig into my bag to find my calendar. Next Tuesday. Yes, I am free to have my cancer cut out next Tuesday.

He ushers us out the door. Well, perhaps that’s not right, since he never rises from the desk. A safe divide. He is ensconced in his office, and he sends us away. “The nurse will give you information on your way out. Good bye.”

I shake as I rise. I look to John for guidance, and he puts his arm around me, opens the door and we leave. We stop at the nurse for paperwork, and I am handed a few sheets of nonsense. I will have to figure out how to read them through a blur of tears.

February 9, 2001

After the shock wore off and the dust began to settle, I called back to cancel the surgery. He was absolutely right…I needed to stop crying and seek out a care team who believed in healing, not admonishing. I quickly found a wonderful oncologist, a new surgical team, and never looked back.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. AnneMarie
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 08:14:50

    I was in that room with you. Amazing clarity after ten years. I suspect that “The Day” will always be clear and I’m beginning to realize more and more details finding their way into my memories. Thank you for sharing a piece of your soul with us.



  2. Laura Temkin
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 08:47:13

    Wow. That day was one year ago for me, seems like 10. I’ve survived breast cancer treatment but I’m still in shock. At least I’m lucky enough to like my oncologist, since i tell him all the tiime my life is in his hands. I hope you choose someone more empathetic.


  3. elynjacobs
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 05:52:09

    For me, five, but I too,remember every detail. The right doctor/team can make all the difference. Glad you fired that first doc, and I hope he learned from it. Thank you for sharing this Lori; you will empower many to seek better care.


  4. Nancy Stordahl
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 18:17:35

    Thank you for sharing a memory that is still so vividly etched in your memory. You did the right thing canceling that surgery and finding a new team. Sometimes when we are feeling so vulnerable it’s extra hard to do that.

    Next month it will be two years for me. I remember “that day” so well too. I suspect I always will.


  5. Jody Schoger (@jodyms)
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 09:12:01

    I’m so sorry for a system that allows doctors to push information when it is so inconvenient and painful for the patient.

    And you’re right: we don’t look back on poor health care. We remember it, we define it, and then we find and redefine what works.



  6. Jan Baird Hasak
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 18:31:49

    I relived my own cancer experiences (in 1996 and 2003) through your writing. Like Nancy, I’m glad you got a new care team that could deal with all the issues you had. We should never settle for less. Thanks for your recounting. I’m sure it was healing to write it. XXX


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