Sunday, June 28, 2015

Double Duty~

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There are countless stories sitting in the upholstered chairs in Dana Farber Cancer Center's waiting rooms, feet resting on worn spots in the carpet, where so many other feet have rested in the past. Most stories will go untold.

But sometimes a person opens up and shares a little.

Bruce and I were seated diagonally behind a man who was waiting to be called for his blood draw. I noticed a little Chihuahua peering at me from beneath the man’s legs; he was drinking from a PETCO watering dish. When the man scooped him up, I realized there was a larger dog lying on the floor. 



So I sauntered by to get a cup of coffee. Actually, I didn't care about the coffee; it was the dogs I wanted to see.The man gave me a smile so I asked about the dogs, which, he said, are trained companion dogs.

He told me he was at one time a nurse, but he almost died on the job when he unexpectedly passed out and had to be intubated. What a way to find out you're allergic to latex! He’s also allergic to peanuts and other chemicals.

His big dog has been trained to detect signs of his master going into anaphylactic shock from exposure to these substances up to a minute before he might pass out. This gives him time to grab his Epi Pen and give himself a jab of Epinephrine. The tiny dog that stays snuggled in his jacket has been trained to flip out and sound a warning when he detects peanuts or latex. 



Sometimes when you already have it rough, cancer gets tossed into the mix. Why is that? And sometimes there is still plenty to smile about.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dana Farber, Here We come!


Cancer is a stealthy opponent, wreaking damage before you suspect its presence.


The first inkling that Bruce might be facing “something” was last summer. I was headed to the beach with a friend, while he was headed to the doctors for his annual CT scan by his cardiologist, who regularly checks the size of his aortic aneurism.

We’d thought the aneurysm was a big deal when it was first discovered several years ago! It was!  But in effect, it was, if not life saving, the issue that got B into cancer treatment sooner than otherwise. For that, we thank the dreaded aneurysm.

When I got to the beach I decided to call B and see how his appointment went.

“The good news,” he tells me, “is that the aneurysm is stable; it hasn’t grown in size. But,” he tells me in what sounds like a nonchalant voice, “the scan shows a spot on my tenth rib.

So I matched his nonchalant tone, “Lots of times the spots turn out to be nothing—just shadows," I tell him.

I stayed at the beach, went swimming, jumped waves, and boogie boarded. I told myself that they ALWAYS find spots that turn out to be nothing but shadows.



B set up an appointment with his primary care doctor and we were left to wait and wonder…and worry. But not worry too much.

But then B notices that the cardiologist’s words on the paper documenting his aneurysm visit say “lesion.” Not “spot.” Lesion.  Lesion is scary sounding in a way that spot is not. Lesion is an ugly word.

So the Google search begins: bone lesions, lesions on the rib, spot on the rib, lesion on tenth rib… B is searching, I know. But he says nothing. And I do the same. 



None of the possibilities for bone lesions looks good. I wouldn’t know which one of the possible diagnoses might be the lesser of the gruesome evils outlined and explained. It’s pretty clear at this point that all roads lead to cancer. And none of them look good.

And sure enough, tests confirmed multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. Tom Brokaw's cancer ... incurable, but treatable.

Thus, the journey begins. The big C. There's no getting off this train.



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Doctor Perfect~


Bruce has treatments at Dana Farber every Thursday. Between his blood draw and infusion, we take the elevator to the third floor cafeteria for a late lunch.

The fact that I spotted a doctor eating lunch was no big deal … except for one thing: he was striking! He was the absolute epitome of a “doctor,” the kind you see in TV ads—white coat, white hair, open, friendly expression, grandfatherly, a concerned expression while he reads information (about some patient awaiting a diagnosis, I imagined). And … he was reading on his lunch break, no less. Perfect doctor!

I nudged my husband. “Doesn’t that doctor look almost like a FAKE doctor?” I asked.

“What do you mean? He looks pretty real to me.” Bruce is very literal.

“He’s real, obviously, but he looks exactly like the stereotypical person an advertising agency would cast as a doctor. Don’t you think?”

Bruce agreed.

When we got up to toss our trash, I followed Bruce right past Doctor Perfect.



I was almost by him when I impulsively stopped and told him, “You know, you look like the kind of doctor who belongs in an advertisement.”

I explained what I meant, and he grinned and said, “Let me tell you a little story.”

So I stood and listened, trash in hand, while Bruce waited across the room by the trash barrel, shaking his head slightly in resignation.

Long story short, Doctor Welch’s wife is an attractive older woman (according to him) and she had been encouraged to model. He accompanied her to one shoot, and whoever was in charge asked, “Who is that man? We want him, too.”

So he consented to sign up, but being a doctor, he never found the time to go to a tryout (or whatever they’re called). But finally, he decided he’d make time for one shoot.

“I wanted to give it a try once,” he said.

When he went to the ad agency, they handed him a white coat and wanted him to portray (surprise!) a doctor. They had not realized he actually was a doctor, but the point is, he’s a doctor who looks exactly like we all want a doctor to look. And in this case, he got paid to look like one. Pretty cool!

He consented to an iPhone photo (which doesn’t do justice to his blue eyes), and when I asked his name, he said, “Bill Welch.” Pretty humble, too.