I have not finished this piece. It is a short scene from February 2014. I am hoping to turn this into something more, but if not, at least it’s here, a record of a moment.
This is what it looks like: My mother is lying on a gurney for the second time in two months, the first time to remove an enormous tumor that was pushing through her breast, stage 4 breast cancer.
This time we are at the hospital for a needle biopsy of her lung. There is a chance her lung could collapse during the procedure. She says she’s more worried about peeing in the bed.
I said, “That’s a good thing to be worried about, I mean, it’s better than worrying about the spot on your lung, whether it’s lung cancer or breast cancer.” (Did I really say all that? I must have thought it.)
I had to ask four questions to get the oncologist to explain to me why the lung biopsy would be beneficial, given his stage 4 “incurable” diagnosis.
“We need to know whether the spot is breast cancer or lung cancer,” he said.
Imagine a six-foot three tall, skinny man with dark hair and a wan complexion. He looks like he should be a funeral director. I guess as an oncologist, he nearly is one.
“Why,” I ask, “do you need to know which cancer it is, since you’ve already diagnosed her as incurable?”
“Because it could be lung cancer.”
This guy could have played Lurch in The Addam’s Family show.
“And if it’s lung cancer?”
“We would want to remove it.”
And once again, given that he has diagnosed her with incurable stage 4 breast cancer, I ask, “Why?”
“Because lung cancer could spread faster than breast cancer.” Couldn’t he have just said that first?
It was the only sentence that answered my question. Will it make a significant difference, – say add a year to her life as opposed to two months? I don’t ask because I don’t know how many questions it will take to get to that answer, or even if there is an answer, or if I want to know it. I cannot process any more information coming from this ghoulish man.
Cindy, I had my hand over my mouth as I finished reading this, but I am not quite sure of the reason. Was it the inane conversation with a doctor that rang so true to me? Was it your unintentional humor running through this story of angst and worry? You are meant to write.
Thank you so much, Kathi. The rest of the story is no better. After two hours waiting at the hospital, my mother fully prepped for the biopsy, The radiologist told us he wouldn’t do it because the spot was too close to her heart and major arteries. So we never found out what it was. She is still with us, regardless.
I’ve had similar scenes with both of my parents. I think I actually growled at the General Surgeon who fucked up my Mom’s chemo Porto-cath for the third time, and wanted to thump the ER doc in the head who kept my Dad in the ER for 5 hours after he fell in the nursing home and cut his head open. I kept repeating, “He’s dying! Just give him the pain meds, glue his head back together, and get him back to his bed!” He kept trying to tell me, “But, look at these labs… They’re horrible!” “Yeah, because he’s dying!” They ran about 5000 different tests just to confirm he was dying, but they proved he wasn’t going to die of a head or neck injury. I think the head or neck injury would have been kinder to my Dad. It seems like cancer drags us into a surreal world of protecting loved ones from too much “Doctoring”. We grow up in a world where medicine is the salvation, and it isn’t until we face this nightmare, that we realize there can be too much of a good thing. We bear witness to the horror that our loved ones endure, and when we realize that there is no more that can change it, we can only hope to protect and comfort them through the end. If there is one thing I know for sure… growling is perfectly acceptable.
That’s a very sad story, Kris. Sometimes the medical practices we encounter are asinine as can be. Other times, they can be what medicine should be, helpful and compassionate. Thank you for reading my post and providing another thoughtful response.
Your experience is universal, but the way you write makes it feel like I’m in your shoes. You’re very talented and I enjoy reading your essays and shorts.
I feel like doctors take out the medical dart board, then you must play 20 questions yet ask the same question in different ways to get a halfway answer. “Answer” may be a generous word though, because I’m usually left unsure and confused even though I’ve worked in clinical labs at hospitals for over 20 years. I count myself fortunate for that because I see doctors as fallable people and NOT the final answer to anything other than some form of hope.
Your mom is in my prayers. You are too… You’re a good person and daughter.
Hey Lisa, thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. I appreciate it more than you know. Cindy