I won’t ever forget hearing the doctor first tell us Andrea had "Invasive Ductal Carcinoma." When the doctor said those words it did not sound so bad in the medical lingo, as if the doctor did not want to say the word cancer. I guess the word cancer just has too much of a negative connotation. But I think it really began to sink in the day we went to the oncologist. That is when it gets serious, when you are handed off to a specialist, when you understand that your first doctor is no longer qualified to treat you, and you have to see someone trained in your "condition." The first visit I would call “formalities and fear.” Oh how I have come to hate waiting in those little rooms with Andrea on the table in her gown, “Open in the front please.” You just sit there and try to fight back the fears and reality of what is happening. Cancer is so close, it is hand-to-hand combat. It feels like the cancer will overwhelm you and you try to separate yourself from it. You try for some distance so you can catch your breath and figure out what is going on. Like any combat you need to survive the initial blow from your opponent. But you are a new recruit and inexperienced in the ways of the battle while cancer is a seasoned veteran. He strikes you with blow after blow and you fall to your knees just trying to block his attack, you are not even thinking of going on the offensive, just survival. Success would be to live the next few minutes, or hours, victory is not even part of your thoughts right now.
Then in walks the doctor, accompanied by her nurse. The doctor is just seeing another case of cancer; I’m sure her fiftieth patient in another crazy day. Her words are without feeling or emotion, never acknowledging what we are experiencing. This is just another case of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, certainly not the first nor the last. We want to be told it will be okay, we want to hear the confidence of a seasoned veteran. We are hoping the Calvary has arrived just like the movies, at the last moment. We came in hoping to meet a strong leader the one who would lead us to victory but we found neither. I leave thinking it is still just Andrea and I. The doctor retires back to her normal life, where she can escape the thought of cancer. But for us, for the patient, there is no escape from cancer. Once it is in you, your life will never be the same. There will be life before and life after cancer and between the two is a very definite line which you can’t cross back over. Nope, it is yours forever.
It is an interesting contrast in the room; the methodical detached efficiency of the doctor and the mayhem and panic of the patient. We were nauseous from the nerves and the fear of what is happening to us. Our world has been turned upside down and in an instant we were thrown into an environment where we did not even understand the language, the terms or their meanings. And at the end the doctor offers you options and tells you, you have to decide how you want to be treated. I remember thinking, aren’t you the doctor here? You’re wearing the white robe you have the nice diploma on the wall and the stethoscope around your neck aren’t you the supposed to tell us what to do. I don’t ever remember going to a doctor and being given options. We have been at this for less then a week and you’re the doctor with all the schooling and experience, please tell me at least someone in this room knows what is going on and what we need to do to get past this. Everything was just crazy not only are we dealing with the diagnosis of cancer we also have to pick the treatment plan. Looking back I understand that for all research and money spent on cancer research there is more modern medicine does not know then what it knows about cancer. Suddenly doctors are timid to tell you what to do when life and death are on the line; all of a sudden our guess will be as good as theirs, as if they don’t want to be held accountable when things “don’t turn out.”
In the end we are left in the room, Andrea is told to get dressed, and as we leave we are handed a pretty pink box. When we get home we open it to find a video about dealing with breast cancer, a nice notebook and pin to write down your thoughts, a pink candle and a pink magnetic ribbon. We are now officially “breast cancer people”, pink is now our favorite color and hope and courage our favorite words. Andrea and I called the pink box “our consolation prize for playing the game of life.” Like the one you get on a game show after you loose. The winner is hugged by the host as he proudly announces the thousands of dollars he or she has won, and standing awkwardly next to them is the loser not sure how to fit in with those around her who only moments ago were her peers in the game, now there is definite separation between them. But the loser is consoled with some nice parting gifts. As the host says, “I want thank you for playing the game of life now tell her what she has won Johnny.”
Andrea and I look at the contents and try to understand what has happened to our lives, what we are doing with a pink candle and a pink ribbon…they seem out of place, but eerily ours to keep.