January 04, 2010

Hard Time Celebrating Good News?


I got good news at my doctor appointment three weeks ago.  I feel deeply relieved for the first time in almost a decade.  I’m rid of the 2 ton weight that has long been chained to my shoulders and I’ve stopped calling my mom with 4AM panic attacks.

In Everything Changes, I interviewed Nora, a lymphoma patient, who was talking about marking her progress during chemo: “ I don’t know if I ever really celebrated any of my good news.  Every time I get a good report I always feel like the hammer has just been held up a little while longer.  So it’s hard to celebrate. It’s just realism actually. I’m at higher risk for infertility, heart disease, lung cancer, leukemia.”

Feeling the relief of my recent good news is a first for me.  In nine years of cancer, I’ve rarely received news that merits celebration. Plus, as an uber educated patient, when I received somewhat good news, I understood that it often had a less favorable side to it. Also, I never wanted to build up my happiness only to have it shot down later. I’ll admit, I’m a pretty realistic person.  Meet my family and you’ll understand.  We’re loving gregarious folks, but looking on the bright side is not our forte.

Even with my recent news it has taken me a while to be able to unwind and feel it. The anxiety of waiting for scans and test results is like living in another universe. I need a reentry period. I cannot just flip a switch from scared shitless to clinking champagne glasses.

I know many patients who have worse prognoses than mine and have would have killed for my news even when it wasn’t all good.  During those times when I wasn’t able to celebrate, I was still aware of how fortunate I was.  I’m not big on guilt or enforced gratitude.  When I couldn’t celebrate my good news, I never forced myself to by comparing myself to others.  I’m always best off just being me.

I’m happy today, not because I’m a positive thinker or am trying to make the most of every moment, but because I’ve finally received news that warrants celebration.  I know I could push it away out of fear.  But this time, it actually makes sense to embrace it.

Have you ever received good news since your diagnosis? Do you have a hard time celebrating good news?

Learn more about how other patients react to news from their docs in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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March 21, 2009

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You


Good News
I went to Memorial Sloan Kettering on Thursday and had excellent news: My tumors are stable, they have not grown (ye-haw)! I have to wait for the blood tests to come back next week to confirm. It made me think about this:

You’re leaving the doc’s office after a blood draw, a pap smear, or depositing some other bodily byproduct, and the doctor says, “We’ll call you in a week or two if something is wrong.”

You go home biting your fingernails and don’t know when to stop. Are the results in but they didn’t call because everything is fine? Or is there a slip of paper that says “You are dying” that fell behind the nurses’ desk and got chucked in the recycling bin by the nighttime custodial staff?

Caller Number #1
Even if your head does not dance with these neurotic visions, even if you have the utmost confidence in the administrative functioning of your doc’s office, never accept the pat answer: “Don’t call us we’ll call you.” Part of being a proactive patient is staying on top of your test results. In the medical system, small administrative errors can have major health consequences. It is simply good practice to call relentlessly until you have a definitive answer.

Do you get nervous waiting for routine test results? Do you trust them to call you back? Are you aggressive? How does the office staff treat you when you are persistent in calling for test results? Are you ever too intimdated by your doctor or their staff to ask for what you need?

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