Monday, February 26, 2018

Patting myself on the back

It feels so good to know you've made a good decision. When I fired my last oncologist, I wasn't sure I was making the right decision. It's scary to walk away from a doctor's care, but it was absolutely necessary in this case to do just that.

Today, I met my new oncologist. What a gem! He was so pleasant and nice. His eyes twinkled as he spoke to me. I knew it was a good fit when he sat down and asked me what he could do for me. He wanted to know how he could help make me more comfortable. What a first! I've never had a doctor ask me that before.

I was impressed that he took time to pull up my chart on his computer and as he did, he asked me to correct anything that was incorrect. He read through all of my records and after he'd done that, He came over to examine me. Before he began, he took time to warm his hands. What a gentleman!

His nurse sat in the corner jotting down notes as he went over my body. As he worked, he asked me if there were specific areas that were bothering me. I mentioned the tenderness underneath my scar, a spot to the right of one of my chest radiation tattoos, my spinal pain and of course, the lymphedema. After thinking for a few minutes, I also added the insomnia.

Dr. H addressed each area of concern. He ordered an ultrasound, an MRI with contrast, and he's sending me to a lymphedema specialist.

After 45 minutes, he was ready to move on to his next patient. Before he left, he turned to me, smiled a huge smile and thanked me for trusting him to be my doctor. He gave me his business card and told me to contact him if I needed anything.

His nurse stayed in the room for a few minutes and another nurse joined us. Both of the ladies wanted to talk to me for a few minutes. They asked me if I was pleased with the doctor. I assured them I was. They told me Dr. H is one of the best on staff at the cancer treatment center and explained he is always happy go lucky. Neither of them has ever seen him upset, angry, or sad. He was good to his employees and wanted the very best for his patients. The ladies were very sincere in their comments about him and that made me feel like I'd made a good decision to change doctors.

When I left the exam room, I smiled. Finally, I was going to get the care I deserved. I felt confident in Dr. H and his team. 

What a difference. Dr. N had been brusk and inattentive. Dr. H had been open, approachable, and friendly. Dr. N hadn't given me 3 minutes of her time. Dr. H gave me 45 minutes. Dr. N didn't go over one of my lab tests or records. Dr. H went over every single one of them.

It's important to find a doctor who fits your needs and if that means going "Doc Shopping," then so be it.

On my way out of the treatment facility, I found a handpainted stone with the word, "Hope," on it. How appropriate and what perfect timing! Yes, I do have hope in a brighter tomorrow with no cancer!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Purpose In Suffering

Yesterday, I was reminded of something important. Late in the day, as I was checking my emails, I received notification that someone had left a comment on one of my blog posts. I have my account set up so I can moderate comments as they come in because, in the past, I've received some pretty racy spam comments that shocked me to my core when they were posted without my knowledge.

As I read the comment the reader left, I went back to that post I'd made in October of 2014. Re-reading the post brought back a flood of memories, some good, and some not so good.

In the post, I was reminded of a lesson God had taught me. It's been almost 4 years since that original post and He's still teaching me reasons for my suffering.

You'd think, by now, my suffering would have ended. You'd think, I'd be much stronger and more healthy than I was back in 2014 after surgery and treatment, but I'm not. Daily, I'm in pain. Some days are worse than others, but there's never a day without some discomfort.

I try hard not to mention it. My husband is really the only one who sees my constant struggles. I try hard to keep my physical pain from my children and grandchildren. There's nothing they can do to help me other than pray, so why bother them with it?

When my spine screams in agony, or when my arms are swollen so tight they feel like they'll burst, I have to remember, God has allowed this into my life. I have to trust that He knows what He's doing. I have to trust He's using this for my benefit. It isn't always easy, in fact, most days it's really hard. And, I do spend a lot of time on the floor of my closet in tears crying out to Him, but I know I'm not forgotten. When I do give Him my agony and pain, He gives me His peace. And that's enough.

Tomorrow, I'll see the new oncologist. I'd be lying if I didn't say I was nervous. Although I'm coming up on my four-year cancerversary (July 9, 2018), every visit to the cancer treatment center is scary. It's always concerning when the lab results come in. I can't help wonder if my tumor marker will be up and more tests will need to be done.

I canceled the MRI I was supposed to have done last week. I'll be talking with the new oncologist about this and get his feelings before rescheduling. If he feels it will be beneficial, then I'll do it. If not, I'll wait.

This morning, as I read my Bible, I was reminded that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. I always wondered why He had to qualify Himself to those to whom He was speaking. In the Greek language, the word good is translated, "Kalos." This word describes someone who is noble, wholesome, good, and beautiful. It signifies not only that which is good inwardly—character—but also that which is attractive outwardly. It is an innate goodness. Therefore, in using the phrase “the good shepherd,” Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, His righteousness, and His beauty. As shepherd of the sheep, He is the one who protects, guides, and nurtures His flock.

As I thought about my Shepherd, Jesus, I was reminded that I am a lowly sheep. Sheep need to be protected, guided, and cared for. That is exactly what Jesus is doing for me.

While I continue my journey through breast cancer, I can trust Him to lead me exactly where I need to go.

His purpose for my suffering is only completely known to Him but as I follow after Him, I know that every ache and pain will soon be erased one day, and that makes it bearable.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Doctors need to learn a thing or two

I've never been much of a fighter. I guess you'd say I'm one who doesn't rock the boat. I go with the flow. It's always easier that way and I don't like confrontation. But when I was treated unfairly at a recent medical appointment, I knew I needed to take action.

It had been six months since I'd seen the oncologist. During that time, I'd been doing fairly well. Sure, I'd experience the daily aches and pains that appeared shortly after surgery. Daily I've struggled with Lymphedema issues, but I've learned to deal with those inconveniences. They've seemed a small price to pay for the ability to continue living. But I was surprised, after months of unsupervised medical care, by my doctor's nonchalant attitude.

When she entered the exam room, she did not greet me. I noticed she didn't have my file in her hand either. Earlier in the day, I'd been sent for bloodwork and had waited two hours for the results. During that time, I'd been naturally nervous. It's always scary when you don't know your tumor marker number. I assumed the doctor would go over the lab results with me before asking how I'd been since the last visit, but she did not. In fact, she didn't say a word.

I waited a few minutes before speaking. I wondered if she was about to ask questions and I wanted to give her time to compose her thoughts. There was an awkward silence and when I realized she wasn't going to start talking, I spoke up.

It was important to mention the back pain I'd been experiencing. It wasn't normal and had increased over the past few months. This was very concerning especially since cancer can metastasize into the bones. While I was speaking, my oncologist seemed to be elsewhere. Her eyes were not focused on me and it was evident she was half listening. Wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt, I waited for a compassionate response after I'd shared my health concern. A few minutes passed and then the doctor said, "We could schedule an MRI but you should probably just follow up with your primary care physician."

I was dumbfounded when she turned to exit the room. She'd only been in with me a few minutes if that. Taking a deep breath, I bit my tongue. I could barely believe it.

On the way home from the appointment, I replayed the events in my mind. Trying to give the doctor the benefit of the doubt, I thought perhaps she'd had a bad day or her caseload had been heavy. But then, I started thinking. It had been six months since I'd seen her last. A lot had transpired since my last visit. The back pain was excruciating, the swelling from lymphedema in my arms had increased, my energy level was greatly diminished, and I hadn't been sleeping. Since the doctor was in and out like a flash, I hadn't been able to talk to her about all of my concerns. I'd only had time to mention the back pain.

Part of the blame was mine. I realized, after the fact, I could have asked her to wait as she put her hand on the doorknob to exit the room or I could have spoken with the nurse before leaving the facility and demanded more of the doctor's time, but I did not. It wasn't my place to push, or was it?

When I arrived home, I spoke to my husband about the day's events. He was as discouraged as I about the way I'd been treated. He asked what I'd like to see happen and that's when I realized I needed to make a change. It was time to find another doctor.

Where did I begin? As I flipped through my cancer care book, I remembered, when I'd entered the treatment facility, I'd been given the name of a patient advocate and had been told if I ever needed anything, she was the person to call. Great, a starting point.

Making the call was difficult. I tried my best to compose my words so as not to point fingers or place the blame entirely on the doctor. My intention was to give the facts and present my wishes.

The patient advocate was kind and caring. As I gave my viewpoint, she listened without interrupting. As I neared the end of my story, I said, "I guess we just aren't a good fit." The advocate asked if I could have any type doctor I wanted, what type I'd choose. I told her my choice would just be someone who was willing to listen, keep tabs on my health, and make sure I received the best care possible.

After giving her my "perfect doctor" requirements, I heard her smile over the phone. With excitement, she exclaimed, "I have the perfect doctor for you!" I listened as she described a new doctor who'd recently joined the cancer treatment facility. She assured me he had a wonderful bedside manner and would be sure to allow plenty of time for me during our initial consultation.

I'm thankful I had the guts to speak up and fight for my rights. It wasn't easy, but if I hadn't, no one else would have fought that battle for me. I feel confident I'll receive more personalized care with this new oncologist.

Sharing this story wasn't easy for me. I felt embarrassed and know some who read this may think I overreacted, but when a doctor fails to treat a patient with dignity and respect, they're doing a disservice to their patients.

Cancer isn't something you just "get over." Even after treatment ends, there's a lifetime of healing and recovery. Periodic medical attention is necessary to watch for signs of recurrence. Any doctor who doesn't understand this should not be practicing medicine in the field of oncology. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rainy days don't necessarily have to get you down

It's a rainy Wednesday here in my neck of the woods and it's been pouring all morning. Tornado warnings were issued in several nearby counties as well as my own. When these come, it's always a nerve-wracking time but since I've lived in Georgia all my life, I know inevitably that this type weather will come each year. We usually have tornadic activity mid Spring, so today's warning was a little early.

Whenever it rains, I can't help but think of idioms like, "It's raining cats and dogs," or "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down." I don't often feel down on rainy days, in fact, I rather enjoy them. They give me time to stay indoors and do the things I enjoy doing like binge-watching TV series or reading a good book.  But today, I think I'll use this dreary day to focus on being creative.

I've started a new art process called acrylic pouring. It involves acrylic paints, pouring mediums, and silicone. It's quite fun and I've quickly become addicted to it. Art has been extremely helpful to me in my breast cancer recovery. As I'm working on an art project, no matter what the medium, I find myself getting lost in the project. I don't think about anything other than what I'm doing at the time. It doesn't matter if my back is screaming out in excruciating pain or if my arms are swollen with lymphedema, I just keep on working.

The cancer treatment center nearby offers art courses for breast cancer patients and survivors at no cost. It's a great opportunity for those affected by cancer to connect. Sometimes I visit and participate in a class but most times, I prefer to work alone at home. When I'm home, I can wear comfortable clothes, crank up my stereo and work freely. It's nice to allow myself time to be uninhibited and while the creative juices flow, I am overcome by a wonderful healing power. As I create, I can channel my pain into the art.

When I look at the many pieces I've created this week, I can tell exactly how I felt at the time of the creation. There's a wonderful ocean scene, filled with beautiful shades of blues, seafoam green, and white - I was feeling very peaceful and relaxed that day. I was also thinking about planning an upcoming vacation, a time to get away and rest. Another piece is chaotic - filled with an array of bright colors but tainted with splashes of black. That day was one of feeling conflicted and confused. I'd been stressing about an upcoming checkup and couldn't help but wonder if test results might indicate cancer had returned. There are many others and each one has been cathartic for me.

My kitchen table is covered in puddles of wet paint. Thankfully, I thought to cover it in plastic first. This has been my hub of creativity. Each evening my husband comes home from work and takes a look. He marvels at my work and I smile. He knows, as well as I do, that staying busy has been a vital part of my healing process. Though it's been three and a half years since my initial diagnosis, I still feel myself in the midst of healing. I'm not sure I'll ever be completely whole again and that's okay. My life often feels like a masterpiece in progress. Some days beautiful colors meld together to create a sweet memory and other days, they're scraped away and repoured.

Life moves at such a swift pace and just like the liquid paint that pours from my container onto the canvas, it travels exactly where it chooses. Sometimes settling into deep crevices and sometimes sliding over the edge. We have no control, although we often think we do.

It would be nice if all medical doctors would recommend art therapy to their patients. I could just imagine, at the end of a visit, a doctor pulling out his prescription pad and telling the patient to wait just one more minute while he scribbled a note. Upon handing the prescription to the patient, the words on the script pad would read something like this - "Art therapy, dose TBD by patient. Medium TBD. PRN for optimal health."

Some doctors and hospitals are finding that art is beneficial for their patients. In fact, doctors in Sydney, Austrailia are prescribing this type therapy for their patients on a daily basis.

It's important to do whatever we can to stay as healthy as possible. Art therapy is an easy way to do that so I say, "Be creative!" Even if you've never had a single art lesson, you can make art. And after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Don't worry about what appeals to others, use art as a creative outlet to move from continually focusing on your health to focusing on joy. The one thing you have that nobody else has is your creative mind, your story, and your vision. So write, draw, paint, build, dance, and play. Live as only you can and enjoy doing it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Labor of love, Ha!

For the past few days, I've had good intentions but you know what they say about good intentions...the path to hell is paved with them. Anyway, it's already the first of February and I should have completed my book by now.

My goal was to have it completed by the end of December 2017. Did that happen? No! Life just got in the way and things happened that were out of my control so I changed my goal. My new goal is to finish by the end of 2018. Will that happen? It remains to be seen, but if I don't make a specific plan it won't.

So today, I committed to writing for a couple of hours each day. I went into my office this morning and thought, "Oh, great! I'm off to a good start. It's only 9:30 a.m. and I have the whole day to write. I turned on my computer, opened up my manuscript and went into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of green tea. The caffeine in the tea should give me an energy boost, right...well, it did. And then my adult ADHD brain kicked in and I ran outside to fill up the bird feeders, then I pruned some bushes. When I came back inside, I realized I hadn't completed my tea, so I gulped down a few sips and opened the dishwasher. After unloading it, I thought I needed to vacuum, so I did. I vacuumed the entire house and as I was doing that, I thought about dinner so I went to the freezer to pull out something to defrost. After doing all of those things, I passed by my paintings that I'd left to dry on the kitchen table. There were still a few damp spots so I decided to wait to put on the acrylic finish.

Heading back to my office, I sat down at my desk and thought, I really should get to writing. As I looked at the clock it was already 12:30! I popped on Facebook for just a few minutes to get caught up on the news and then my daughter started texting. As I read her texts about baby Garrett and his news, I lost track of time.

The file on my computer was still open. It was now 1:00 p.m. and my stomach was growling. Instead of fixing myself a nice lunch, I went into the kitchen and grabbed a protein shake. I could drink that while I worked on my manuscript.

Back at my desk, protein shake in hand, I opened my book manuscript. Instead of picking up where I left off, I thought it wise to reread my writing and make some edits. I scrolled all the way back to my book's introduction and began there. As I read, I was transported in time.

Reliving the past events of my cancer journey wasn't easy. Going through each process step by step was a challenge. I'd forgotten some of the emotions I'd felt back then, now they were fresh in my mind again.

After two hours of reading and editing, I decided to stop. I completed 4 chapters of work and I'm satisfied with that. Tomorrow, I'll try again. This time maybe I won't get sidetracked. Sometimes it's hard to have a creative mind. It seems it's always working, always thinking, always going in fifty million different directions. Now, where is that bungee cord?

If it ain't one thing, it's another!

  Trying to smile through the pain I've been AWOL for a while now, so this post will more than likely be longer than most. I don't e...