I have WHAT? Part 3 – You have cancer.

Breast cancer cellI wrote Part One (Discovery) of this series last December, followed quickly by Part Two (Biopsy). It’s taken me over half a year to write the third part of the series. The biopsy was a traumatic experience for me and the way I write is to bring myself back to the experience itself. Writing about it left me more upset now, years later, than I was then. At the time I was shell-shocked and didn’t have the internal resources to really feel everything. Now I do have those resources. Something of a mixed blessing, to tell the truth.

All that is to say that you may want to read those first two posts before this one.

Almost a month after the biopsy, I received a phone call, telling me I had an appointment with the same professor who had done the biopsy. I wanted to ask if there was anyone else who could see me, but I was still too much in shock to speak up for myself. Oddly, I chose to go alone.

The appointment was in the same place as the initial mammography and ultrasound and the biopsy–the general x-ray department of the clinic. I arrived about fifteen minutes early and checked in with the very busy receptionist. I took a seat as she instructed.

I waited and waited, growing increasingly nervous and agitated. I could hardly speak when after about an hour I went up to the receptionist and asked what was happening. She curtly told me that “they” knew I was here and to take a seat and wait patiently. (Why do some medical and ancillary personnel feel that they have the right to speak to patients as if we were small children?)

After another forty-five minutes or so, I saw a nurse coming out of the hallway where I knew the professor’s office was. I went up to her. “Excuse me.” Her eyes widened. Clearly she was not used to being accosted by patients. “Do you work with Professor Tact?” “I do.” “Could you please tell him that Knot Telling is here and I’ve been waiting for a couple of hours now to hear the results of my biopsy?” Her expression changed to one of pity and she said, “Wait here,” and stepped into the professor’s office.

Now, it must be said that by this time I knew it was a malignancy. You don’t get called to an appointment with the professor to be told nothing is wrong. I sort of knew it was a malignancy from the moment the mammography technician told me to sit in the hallway and wait for an ultrasound. But still…

I am sitting at my computer in my home. This is just a memory. So why do I feel the icy fist clenching my heart and why are my breaths  quick and shallow and why are there tears backed up behind my eyes? Hey, here’s a good thing about having metastatic disease: you never again have to be afraid of hearing the words “you have cancer”. But back then I was still irrationally hoping for it to something else, anything else.

The nurse opened the door to the office and waved me in. She left and shut the door. The professor was yelling into the telephone, demanding to know who was at fault for something. The young doctor who had done part of my biopsy was standing behind his chair. I stood just inside the door, not sure if I should wait outside until he was done with his call or what. He looked up and waved me to a chair in front of the desk. I sat down.

“Tell her to come in here,” the professor shouted as he banged down the telephone and picked up my file. He turned a few pages back and forth and then looked up at me as there was a brief knock at the door and a secretary came in. “I’m busy,” he yelled at her. “You just stand there until I finish with this.”

I was beside myself. I didn’t want an audience while I got this news and I didn’t want to be an audience to whatever scolding that lady was going to receive. I was still too cowed to say anything. Professor Tact glanced at me and then back down at the file. “Okay, it’s malignant, but we knew that.”

I felt as though the top of my head was floating away. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. I heard him yell at the poor secretary to leave and come back when he called there. I saw the top of the desk, I saw the young doctor’s pitying face, I saw the professor’s hands turning pages in my file.

I don’t remember leaving the office or the building. I remember calling my GP and telling him I needed to see him, and he said he had the results on his computer, too. I don’t remember where I went when I left the clinic, if I went home or to my GP or my priest or what.

I do remember knowing that things would never again be the same.

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35 thoughts on “I have WHAT? Part 3 – You have cancer.

  1. Outrageous insensitivity! Even as I think “karma” I think it
    is bad to hope that such insensitivity will earn its own punishment because that seems awful, too.

  2. Professor Tact, indeed. An appalling story from the doctor-patient point of view, all three episodes of it.

  3. What a horrible delivery. Inexcusable.

    “I do remember knowing that things would never again be the same.” That pretty much sums things up doesn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing – though I wish you didn’t have to… hugs.

  4. What an unbelievably insensitive human being! People like him shouldn’t be in the medical profession. I was so angry when I read this I wanted to meet this guy and maybe give him a lesson in civility. I hope the relationship improved. 😦

    • Yes, he was sort of amazingly bad. Almost like the “what not to do” in some old-fashioned training film. (Remember the ones I mean? Black and white with a baritone narrator making occasional comments like “Uh oh! Look who’s coming now!”?)

      I am glad that no relationship was necessary with him. He was not involved with my treatment after that point, for which I give thanks.

  5. I was given my cancer diagnosis over the telephone at home and alone…. I collapsed on the floor crying i was so shocked… I will never forget that feeling

  6. I cannot believe the rudeness of the man in such a situation – as though your assumption would mean that he could be that abrupt……. no wonder you were a mess while writing this account. Can you place a complaint at all to try and prevent someone else going through this, or is it to raw?
    Blessings and prayers
    Maxine

  7. No one should ever hear about it that way. I had the ultrasound, mammogram and biopsies and learned I did have cancer in one day. I was offered ativan, and treated with compassion the whole day. I am very greatful for that.

    • Lisa, I am so very glad to hear that there is another way. I’m glad you were treated well. I’m very impressed that you got the results all in one day. Where did this happen (country, state)?

  8. Your experience is so shocking and unnecessary. By this day and age you’d think we’d have more socially capable and emotionally intelligent medical staff but sadly there are still dinosaurs

    • I know. 😦

      Your comment made think about emotional intelligence. I don’t know if medical schools screen for or teach those skills nowadays, but they most certainly did not in the past.

  9. I also remember all of the waiting. I saw a famous oncological breast surgeon and every time after each surgery and/or biopsy there was about a three hour wait in the waiting room. The waiting was the worst. When it was in my lymph nodes he walked in and said “You are going to lose all of that beautiful long hair.” But I see in your story there’s mets. Very impersonal. His delivery of this news is wrong. Yes we can get the best care from the most unfeeling people. Scary. It shouldn’t be this way.

    • I did not have mets at diagnosis; I was initially Stage III.

      Susan, you are very kind person. “Impersonal” is among the adjectives I would choose, but not the first. You are right: it shouldn’t be this way.

  10. I’m sorry the professor was so heartless. I imagine doctors need to steel themselves when they deal with cancer every day, but there is no excuse for the way you were treated. No wonder it was hard to write about. I hope you are treated with kindness now. With mets, every moment counts.

    • Thank you, Kate. Yes, doctors need to steel themselves, but not to the point that they forget there are people sitting in front of them. Of course, Professor Tact is a radiologist, who are not known for bedside manner.

      Yes, since then I have been treated with dignity and kindness.

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  12. I felt your pain when I read how the news of your cancer was delivered. So sorry you went through that. Yes, life will never be the same … and you express it so beautifully. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  13. Tears were in my eyes, as I read all three parts. This post moved me, and I just wanted to give you a big hug. The doctor was a true asshole, through and through. There is no good way to deliver a cancer diagnosis, but this doctor was so dismissive and inconsiderate. And his staff were horrific too. They made a terrible situation even more terrible.

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  15. I cried as I read this. In my case, my GP told me, much more gently than you were told, only three days after the biopsy. And that was tough enough to handle. My GP called me during my planning time at school. Somehow I made it to the school office, I couldn’t say it so I told my principal I broke the cell phone rules. She said never mind about that, had me sit down, handed me a whole box of tissues and asked what the doctor said. Then I remember her telling the secretary to get a substitute for my classroom. To this day, I don’t remember driving home or calling my church, but I know I did both. It all just didn’t seem real, like it was happening to someone else.

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