Cancer Lesson #41: A Cancer Glossary

Cancer Lesson #41: A cancer glossary

I could never be a doctor or nurse, or even an aide. For one thing, the medical field isn’t for wusses, and I believe we’ve already established my legitimate claim to the title of Head Wuss of Wussville, USA. Doctors and nurses deal with blood, pus, puke, piss, and more shit than the rest of us can even imagine. Frankly, I got enough of that when my daughter was a baby.

Then there are the pesky math and science requirements. Basic biology was enough for me. Even then, I refused to do the blood type experiment required to pass the class. It was bad enough to get a shot when I was sick. No way would I stick myself voluntarily. (I passed the class anyway, probably because the teacher didn’t know how to handle the intransigence of an honor roll student.)

To say I admire anyone working in the medical field would be an understatement. I grovel at their feet in abject admiration for being proficient at a job that must be trying on the best of days. In the course of my battle with (journey through?) cancer, I received better care than I ever would have expected.

I’m lucky to live within driving distance to Cleveland, a city known for its fine hospitals. Of these, “The” (never spoken without a hushed capitalization) “Clinic” is probably the most well known.

But I didn’t go to “The Clinic,” and I didn’t go to “University” either, though I’m sure both provide excellent care.

My OB/GYN is based at Metro, so I went there.

Metro is the other hospital, the one people refer to as “urban.” Where they warn you to keep your doors locked. The place you’re more likely to see a prison inmate, shackled and cuffed, or a welfare mother, than a suburban matron like me.

Still, I dare you to find better care anywhere.

At Metro, my surgeon didn’t give me referrals; her secretary gave me appointments, scheduled on the same day so I didn’t have to drive in multiple times. My OB/GYN called to say how sorry he was to hear of my diagnosis and came to see me on his first day back from a two-week leave.

The second night of my hospital stay, I awoke around midnight to find my plastic surgeon at my bedside, dressed as though he’d been to the theater. He was just checking in.

And my Metro-based oncologist still calls to let me know how my tests and blood work turn out.

But, I digress. What I’m trying to establish is my unbounded respect for anyone working in the medical field before I poke a little fun at some of the language I heard during my “Cancer Year.”

Below, in no particular order and as a service to mankind, please find “Kym’s Glossary of Medical Terminology.” Feel free to print out this handy guide for your next visit to the doctor.

Procedure: Feels like an operation; costs like an operation, but if it were an operation, we’d have to keep you overnight, and we’re sending you home.

You may feel…

     A pinch: This will feel like you’re being jabbed with a needle. Because you’re being jabbed with a needle.

     Pressure: Imagine an elephant. Balanced on one leg. On your body.

     Discomfort: As Sarah McLachlan sang: “Hold on. Hold on to yourself. This is going to hurt like hell.”

     Some pain: It will be agony, but you’ll live. At least, we hope you will. Disposing of bodies is so inconvenient, and we’re short-staffed today.

     Drowsy: Hey! Wake up. I’m talking to you.

Someone will be with you in a few minutes: You did bring a book, right? No? Then, enjoy this March 2007 issue of Triathlete. Or perhaps you’d prefer a nice catalog of cancer hair accessories. I hear they even sell bangs and sideburns you can clip on to your scarf or hat.

Sorry, we’re running a little behind: I hope your book is a long one. Like the Dictionary. Or Bible.

This looks like a good vein: I hope it’s a good vein because it’s the only one I can find.

Sorry that didn’t work out: I’m sorry that vein didn’t work. You may not believe it, but I actually don’t enjoy jabbing people with sharp instruments. Especially sniveling, weak-kneed, veinless wonders like you.

Be sure to call if you need anything or have any questions. Here are the numbers: I mean it. Call! We’ll call you back more quickly than you expect.

As a special bonus, in case (unlike me) you are ever without a book in the examining room, I offer the following suggestions for your entertainment. (And again, I’m joking!)

  1. Bet your husband or, better yet, your teenager they can’t hack into the hospital computers. Offer monetary incentives.
  2. One by one, start calling the numbers listed on the phone. Identify yourself as Dr. Jones and tell whoever answers you need help, stat, in Examining Room B.
  3. Steal an assortment of latex gloves. They’ll be handy for your next home improvement project.
  4. Rearrange the supplies in all the drawers and cupboards.
  5. Measure just how much paper is on that little roll they use to cover the exam table. Go on; I’m sure they can roll it back up and use it.
  6. Pop your head out into the hallway and ask everyone who walks by, “Are we there yet?”

Got any definitions you’d like to add? Drop a comment. Everyone who does will receive a free pair of latex gloves and a gauze pad.

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Me and the Man Who Held My Hand Through the “Discomfort” of Breast Cancer Treatment

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Cancer Lesson #40: An Appointment in the Chemo Chair

Cancer Lesson #40: An appointment in the chemo chair

Chemo appointments have some commonalities with beauty salon appointments, a fact I first noticed when Susan, Dr. H’s nurse told me she’d “book my chair.”

I began to think of other similarities.

  • Both appointments take place in a comfortable chair. True, the chemo chair is slightly more institutional, but it can recline – most beauty shop chairs don’t.  And you can’t beat that handy-dandy I-V pole and convenient built-in armrest for the arm taking the drugs.
  • As in a hair salon, there are specialists busily scurrying hither and yon, trying to keep clients on schedule. In the chemo room, however, the specialists are highly skilled nurses instead of cosmetologists.
  • Like a timer in a beauty shop, the beep from an I-V monitor will bring someone darting to your side to set the next step of your treatment in motion.
  • In both places, each client’s mixture is different.
    • Hair chemicals are used to straighten hair or curl it, to color a client’s locks or to bleach away their pigment, which makes me think we’d all be better off  learning to be happy with what we’ve got.
    • Chemotherapy chemicals (drugs) are also used for a variety of purposes. Neoadjuvant therapy is given before surgery, often to shrink a tumor to a more manageable size. With breast cancer, this type of chemo is sometimes offered so a patient can have a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy. Chemo may also be given as the main treatment, when the cancer has already spread beyond the primary site at time of diagnosis, or if it spreads after initial treatment. My chemo was adjuvant chemotherapy, meant to kill off any of those nasty sleeping terrorist cancer cells waiting to attack later. Since my surgery was deemed successful at rooting out the problem, my chemo was like life insurance, raising the odds in my favor that I won’t have a recurrence.

The similarities end there. Chemo drugs are poison. Medical staff wear gloves and facemasks for protection, and patients are instructed to tell a nurse if even a drop of one of the drugs touches their skin.

Also, those sitting in the chemo chairs aren’t looking for a change of hairstyle – few of them have hair to worry about. They are there because they are to fight the disease which lurks inside them.

The chemo chairs are full, every weekday from 7:30 to 4 pm, filled with people like you and me, who would like to see their grandchildren graduate, who don’t want to leave their children motherless or their spouse alone to raise their family. Sometimes, they are people who are dying and just want to stay alive a little longer.

A full house. Every hour. Every chair. Every day.