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.


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

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96 thoughts on “Cancer Lesson #41: A Cancer Glossary

  1. As someone who has spent literally hundreds of hours in hospitals with both my mother and my best friend as they endured chemo and radiation treatments, I laughed my ass off at your suggestions to keep busy. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I sat there…and waited, and waited, and waited. I did steal a box of purple latex gloves once, for no real purpose other than I felt justified in taking them because of the exorbitant hospital fees. Great post, congrats on being pressed, and I wish you the best on your journey.


  2. I can’t even begin to praise you for turning a topic that could make you cry into something that is making me howl with laughter at this hour of the night. 😛 I wouldn’t say that happens with Cancer patients; patients in general face the same treatment. 😛 This comes from a teenager who has been to almost all the hospitals in her city because no doctor could even diagnose what was wrong with me. Oh wait, still is. 😐
    Anyway. Congratulations for a brave battle. Congratulations for making it through. Keep being a strength for people. 🙂


    • Velane’
      I’m not sure I’ve ever made anyone howl before. 🙂 So, thanks for that. Hopefully, the docs will soon figure out a diagnosis for you. It’s always easier to deal with something you can name. As for me, I was one of the lucky ones because I survived (at least thus far). There are many who wage much more difficult battles against cancer and other illnesses and don’t. I count myself fortunate for every day I’m still here. Especially when nice people like you read and comment on my blog. Wishing you the best.



  3. It is quite hard to remain positive through difficult times. Your post was refreshing. Thank you and congratulations on making it through!


  4. I’m a 10-year survivor but you took me right back with your comments. I believe the treatments have improved (or at least I hope they have) they still are barbaric. I have my annual MRI/mammogram in 2 weeks. Always a tense time. Hope you’re doing ok.


    • Thanks, Kate. My mammogram is coming up too. And I agree, treatments have improved and keep improving. Alas, I think the more they learn, the more they realize what they don’t know about cancer. Such a complex disease.


  5. You have the strongest weapon against cancer: your positive attitude and humurous spirit. 🙂 Congratulations on your battle! I printed your glossary for my mom who is leaving next week to help a relative going through cancer; I was pretty torned on her going there alone, but now I have a way to contribute and to make everyone smile if only for a minute, thanks to you.

    also; your post inspired me a thought on yours and other people’s courage. I’m new to the blogging world, but I feel it’s etiquette that I put a link of your post under mine and I also feel I should ask for your permission first! 🙂


    • Thank you for stopping by and for leaving a comment. I’m delighted to have you put a link of my post under yours, and glad you feel my glossary might help someone else through their cancer treatment.


  6. Cancer is a miserable experience but I have noticed humor is a helping hand. My grandson, Michael, had brain cancer at the age of two and went to New York for treatment. He was in a study of twenty three for chemo and stem cell. He and two others survived. I blogged about it. It was a bad experience for all involved yet humor did help. I am very happy you have humor and someone to hold on to. It probably was a deciding factor. The best to you. Barry


  7. Great article! I am a nurse myself and I have been with a lot of patients, going through their battles and they are all different… It is good to see you are keeping your humor through it all and have strength and support to keep going!! Wishing you all the best!


    • Thank you for both reading my post and for the comment. As I said in my post, I could never do the job you do each day. My hat is doffed and thanks given to all those in the medical field for performing a difficult job with grace and strength.


  8. Hi Kym – cancer is like a finger print I think. Like each presentation is so taylor made and connected to the person hosting it. I tried to see mine as something I had grown naturally, rather than an alien invasion. Really those cancer cells have my admiration as they just refuse to die! So I am hoping I have persuaded any that may be floatin’ around to transform back into healthy cells, and doing what I can to be a successful host of happier cells that don’t mind dying when it’s their time – for the common good. I just wrote a blog about reconstruction which I am now ready to consider. Please read it if you have nothing better to do – mrsdasrachelderham – I hope you continue to go well. Good luck!


    • I agree with you. Everyone’s cancer is different — even if you have the same disease and are the same age, weight, background, etc., your experience will be different from mine. I started blogging about my experience in the hope that someone else might get a smile or perhaps a bit of knowledge or sense of community, but hope people realize that I am not trying to say I speak for everyone. I will stop by your blog to learn about our experience. Thanks for visiting mine.


  9. Thanks for this. My brother didn’t make it through. Melanoma. I’m so happy you did! I think another great one is “waiting for the test results”… we waited over a month because the “lab” hadn’t sent them back. You just feel like saying… “can I speak to the manager???” lol! I appreciate your humor and ability to encourage others through real talk. Congrats on being pressed!


    • I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. I’m well aware that I have been very lucky in surviving thus far since I have friends who weren’t so fortunate and others who are still fighting the battle. Thank you much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.


  10. Thank you for this post, Kym. I appreciated your keen awareness of language within the medical realm, and I enjoyed your powerful writing. I look forward to following your blog!


  11. Hmm yes, and don’t forget “You may feel some joint pain after your Neulasta shot” when what they mean is you will be wracked with agony and feel as if all your large bones have been filled with boiling lead. And it lasts for 3 days. And you forgot to mention bringing picnic supplies because sometimes the wait is really, really….. really long. Those purple Nitrile latex gloves are best, by the way!


    • Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for taking the time to comment. I started writing these “lessons” on my other blog while I was in treatment. There were just so many bizarre things about cancer and its treatment that I couldn’t help sharing them with others. I wish you strength and healing.


  12. From one cancer survivor to another, YOU GO GIRL! Wishing you a future of nothing but great health and wonderful memories ahead.


    • Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. Glad I could make you smile. So far, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Almost three years since my diagnosis, and I’m still going strong.


    • Thanks for stopping by and for commenting too. My daughter took the photo as part of a series she did documenting when we shaved my head. I didn’t want to continue to pull out clumps of hair until it was gone — much better to do it all at once.


    • Thank you for taking the time both to stop by, and to comment. I’ve been fortunate to have no recurrence, at least so far. Crossing my fingers it will stay that way. As a friend and I frequently say, “I hope to live long enough to die of something else.”


  13. I share the wuss trait. I avoid going to the doctor at all costs, for fear that they will find something wrong with me and I’ll die the very next day. Since losing a parent to cancer, I now read a lot of posts like these, and it’s comforting to know that other people go through this too, and it’s just as hard if not harder. I love your sense of humor, and my dad carried his sense of humor with him all the way through. He would have to sit through chemo for hours. I sure as hell don’t think I’d be able to go through these experiences with the same attitude. Everyone is so brave, and can always find a reason to keep smiling.


    • I found the little jabs to be the hardest, and since I have the world’s worst veins, this was a little challenging. Fortunately, I was able to get a port for my chemo. The nurses in the chemo department were experts at accessing it. One big jab and it was done. Plus one of them told me about what she referred to as “wussy cream,” which you put on 60 minutes beforehand to numb the skin. It was expensive and not covered by our insurance, but worth every penny. Later my oncologist told me there are some over-the-counter ones that work just as well and are cheaper. As for attitude, you would do what you need to. I just found there were so many weird things about treatment that I had to share, which is how they ended up being on my other blog. Now, I’m in the process of revising and posting them here, with the hopes of self-publishing a book of “Cancer Lessons.” Oh, and as for the wuss trait — it helps to have someone hold your hand. I made my husband or daughter go every time, and just about crushed their fingers!


  14. Tenho pessoas muito próximas que também já tiveram esta doença e sei que o tratamento de câncer é um processo muito complicado. É uma mulher forte pois não desistiu da SUA vida. Deus olhou por si! Viva a vida intensamente 🙂


  15. I work as a patient scheduler at a cancer hospital. This list reminds me of some of the beautiful patients that I speak with on a daily basis. Upbeat and funny despite what they are going through. Nice post.


  16. My mom was having serviks cancer when 1998. U know the medicine is how set up ur mind that ur body strong enough to against the cancer cell increase more and more. She made it and she’s live very well..until God call her for going back home in 2012…dont ever loose hope.because when stop then everything done 🙂


    • Thank you for stopping by and for your comment. So glad you were able to share 14 more years with your mom. And though I am happy to be clear of cancer for now, I try to never assume that means I’m clear forever. Thus, I also try to be grateful for every day.


  17. I used to carry a different item to my chemo session, golf club (never played a day in my life), teddy bear (not mine) etc etc. got a few laughs and certainly started a few conversations and sometimes helped take our mind off the bad days 🙂


  18. Pingback: A magnificent trait of humanity in the blogosphere | The hidden stories of a true lover

  19. I applaud you for your strength, courage, and humor during your “journey” through all of this. I can totally sympathize with you.
    I am a nurse, but I have chosen to stay home to care for my mother who is stage 4 colorectal cancer. So I have been the person to say all of the terms you listed above, which really made me chuckle because you’re exactly right! =)
    I started nursing school after I lost my dad to esophageal cancer in February 2007. My grandfather was diagnosed in October of 2007 and passed the Friday of the end of my first week of nursing school in 2012. He and my mom were both re-diagnosed my first semester of nursing school. I had to drop out of RN and go to LPN, and put it off again this year because my mom was very sick after Thanksgiving.

    Again, I applaud you and give you much respect for your journey you are on. Best if luck to you!


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