My dear late mother used to refer to cancer as ‘the C word’, too lethal to even let it touch her lips. But thank goodness times have changed. I heard deadpan comedienne Tig Nataro do a comedy club routine a few years ago that opened with her saying: “Hello, I have cancer, how are you?”, and I thought about it every time I told someone about my own cancer. She was totally open about her experience, asked for no sympathy, didn’t make light of her fears and pain, and repeatedly reassured her audience that they would be okay.
“This is a conversation I don’t like having with anyone,” my doctor said a few months ago as we sat in our respective chairs, face to face on the side of his desk, close enough to touch. He’s a very tall garrulous man, leans in when he speaks to me. He recently explored the most intimate parts of me, and I’d never even seen what his whole face looks like until I checked his website, since he’s never unmasked with patients. “The lesions we removed last week are cancerous, and let me explain to you what that means.”
Explain he did, with a hand-drawn picture of what he’d done and what he’d removed. Beneath the drawing he wrote down the medical terms for what I was experiencing so I could rush home and google them. As he wrote, he frequently paused and looked up to see how I was reacting to the news. He laughed and relaxed back into his swivel chair when I admitted, “If I had to choose between cancer and Alzheimer’s, I’d pick cancer, thank you. At least it can be treated.”
“Atta, girl,” he said, loud enough to be heard in the waiting room, I’m sure. “Here’s what happens next: CT and MRI tests to see if it’s spread. If it has, not to worry. The type of chemo you’d get won’t make you nauseous or force you to wear one of those fashionable turbans.” We scheduled the next procedures, and before I left his office he wrote his personal cell number above one of the drawings, in the upper right corner of the page. “Call me anytime. For anything.”
I’ve recovered from a second surgery with his capable hands, for Stage 1 cancer, to be sure there were no naughty lingering cancer cells that had hid during the first one. He’d warned me my biopsy results might be slow in coming, due to the holidays and because of covid-related medical short staffing, and my phone finally rang at eight Monday morning with the good news. My doctor shouted into the phone that all is well. “We just have to keep an eye on things, but you go live your best life and I’ll see you for your next checkup,” he said, and wished me the happiest of holidays. I can’t imagine how he does what he does every day.
I’m not revealing this to you to get a reaction. I know everyone doesn’t get the same good news I did, and maybe next time around mine won’t be so good. But in the meantime, we have covid, climate change, gridlocked politics, ill will toward man, and more, and little of that matters to me right now. I’m okay, and I want you to be okay. Take good care of yourself, enjoy the upcoming holidays, be optimistic about 2022, and call me if you want the name of a terrific doctor.