Those Words – “You Have Cancer”
As I mentioned the other day, it was around the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays, nearly 27 years ago, I heard the words, “you have cancer.” Actually, it did not go that smoothly. Just three words are spoken in just over a second. The moment that I was told that I had cancer, actually seemed like hours.
It began with something so simple as an itch, a really bad itch. Enough to make me want to scratch-my-skin-raw itch. Five doctors later, and six second opinions as to the mysterious lump on the left side of my neck, I was finally directed to an “oncologist”, or at least that was the title on the sign in the lawn of the front of the building. I was seeing a doctor, and had never seen a specialist before in my life, so “oncologist” did not send up any flags to me. I was dealing with either an infection or injury.
I was led directly to an office which was odd for someone who needed to be examined, but I went along with it. And then into the office came Dr. G.
Yes, the pictures above described how I saw Dr. G from the moment he walked into his office, through the entire conversation that followed. And this is exactly how the conversation began:
“Hodgkin’s Disease is a very curable cancer that is often found in young adults.” So Dr. G went from the first square above, to the next square. What they hell was he telling me this for? And then his appearance began to morph through the next few pictured squares and uttered this comment (heard by nearly ALL Hodgkin’s patients), “in fact, if you are going to get a cancer, this is the one to get.” Oh, hell, Dr. G just skipped all the way to the final square of the photo collage and became the fly. The thing is, Dr. G actually did resemble Jeffrey Goldblum.
No handshake. No stethoscope. No physical exam. Dr. G went from 0 to 100mph. I do not even think he confirmed my name. I am not exaggerating. I know there was no handshake. But this doctor had just diagnosed me with having a blood cancer. I do not care how treatable it was, and most certainly was not wanting to get a cancer and somehow winning the lottery getting this type of cancer.
I would storm out of his office and never return. His office tried several times to reach me over the next few days, urging that I return to follow through on biopsy plans. I would eventually seek out a different oncologist, and yes, be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease (that is what we called it before it was referred to as “lymphoma.”).
Wow, 27 years ago. That is over half of my life.
Last year, just before my father passed away from lung cancer, my father was in the hospital. Dr. G was still practicing oncology, and was in the clinic next to my father.
I apologized to Dr. G for my reaction and wanting to swat him with the world’s biggest flyswatter ( he was never told my analogy). He said he was used to that kind of reaction. He had told thousands of patients that they had cancer of some form or another. No one ever told him, “hey, thanks for giving me that news.” And though Dr. G’s bedside manner or tact in communicating the diagnosis had a lot to be desired, I am sure that I am not alone in how I reacted to him. But I somehow get the feeling that I may be one of the few who actually apologized for the difficult job he had to do.