Thursday, March 1 was my surgical liberation day. After 15 days of wearing the same surgical vest (ok, I alternated between a couple, but when you wear a garment for 24-48 hours or more in rotation with an identical garment for another 24-48 hours, does it matter?), two drains sticking out of both sides, and surgical pads being held in place by sheer will, I'd had it.
I was grouchy. I was angry. I was in pain (when I wasn't on pain killers). I felt that the drains owned me, and had a mind of their own. Yes, folks, I'd turned into Spiderman's nemesis, Dr. Octopus - down to the sad little hair. I was a grimacing mastermind, who desperately wanted to sever my inorganic appendages as much as I was a master to them. But, on Thursday, after some Lidocaine shots, I was rid of these stupid drains. No more tubes sticking out of my sides that I could accidentally yank, no more strange things tugging at my insides, no more draining icky yellow fluid and praying there weren't any surges. The drains were out. And I could bathe again. (My apologies to those poor souls who, knowingly or unknowingly, were subjected to my rather Elizabethan sanitary standards.)
But, that was just the beginning.
Today I met with my oncologist, Dr. Tepler. Sometimes, it's a hard read with him. There are a lot of strange silences, unspoken questions, and a lot of moments where I wonder, "Should I say something? Is he going to say anything? Are we done talking? Did we start?" It was one of those days.
First, I walked into the Hematology & Oncology practice at the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital, and was completely confused. The entire reception/office facility was planted firmly right in the waiting area, with their office space blacked out - renovations. But I didn't see the signs about pardoning any one's appearances on my way in. I was running a bit late, but with Dr. Tepler, that should have been fine as I'm usually waiting a good half-hour. But, to my surprise, he was standing by the desk, as though he'd just called my name. With a surgical mask on. I assumed that either he was sick, or he really didn't like the dust and muss of renovation. Turns out, he was sick.
While I was waiting to check in, he grabbed a paper and sat with us patients in the waiting area. I awkwardly sat next to him, unsure whether or not I should say hello or let him read his newspaper in peace - perhaps this was his way of relaxing? We sat, silently, next to each other for a moment, and I asked, "Should we head into your office?" He looked at me and asked if I'd had blood work done yet. I shoot my head and asked, "Am I supposed to?" He said that I am supposed to and that I was supposed to fast. It was news to me. I went to the desk to inquire about it, and Briana said, "Yes, you need to have blood work done." We both looked to Dr. Tepler, who stared back at us. After another awkward lull, I asked if we should wait, and he said to just skip the blood work. Then we did our usual shuffle back to his office - I start out following him, he stops/slows down along the way so I'm in front of him, I feel strange leading him to his office, so I stop and we end up staring at each other for a moment, then he steps forward, I step forward, and eventually, we politely allow one another to lead the other into his office.
I'd go into further detail into our appointment, but, it's patient/doctor privilege and, frankly, it was a lot of short questions and answers, silences, me staring at his computer screen as he clicks buttons and reviews my chart, quietly, and us looking at each other blankly.
You have to understand, as strange as this ritual seems, I appreciate it a great deal. First, it's terribly amusing. Second, I get why Dr. Tepler is so quiet and introverted. The man is a genius. He's that kind of quiet genius that, on some level, I have to wonder if he just forgets about the verbalizing step in the process because his mind is moving so quickly forward.
Anyway, after I felt that I had counted all the pores on what face was exposed beyond the surgical mask, I asked, "So am I in remission? I know I'm not cancer free for 5 years, right?"
He smiled (I could tell - his ears lifted the surgical mask off the bridge of his nose and the corners of his eyes wrinkled), clicked his tongue, and said, "Well, no, Rica, you're not in remission. You're in a much better state."
I looked at him quizzically, waiting for the punchline, forgetting with whom I was speaking, and grunted, "Huh?"
Dr. Tepler said, "Rica, your status is better than remission. You are 'No Evidence of Disease.'"
I asked, stupidly, "Well, I get that that's good, but that's better than remission?"
He smiled again and said, "Yes. It means that not only do all your tests show that you have no more cancer, but that we don't expect any recurrence. You have no evidence of the disease left in your body."
"But is that until the next body scans?"
"Because does it make any sense for me to scan you, increasing your chance of new cancers, when I can tell you don't have any cancer left in your body?"
"So you can see that in my blood work? I don't have to have annual or quarterly scans?"
"Not unless you really want them."
"Yes. You're in good shape, Rica."
And that was that.
So, time to celebrate. I'm N.E.D.! Woo-hoo!
Would you consider making a donation to LIVESTRONG of $18 to help me celebrate my N.E.D. status?