October 3 – 11:30 a.m. Steve and I are about to leave to meet Katie at Baechtel Creek Medical Clinic. Mom calls. Right then. She asks how I’m doing? “Um. Well.” The moment I’ve been dreading the most. I tell her what’s going on. I hear her suck her breath in. I promise to call her back as soon as I can. I hang up. We leave.
Katie is already there when we arrive. We are all very solemn. They call my name and the three of us follow the nurse back to an examining room. Dr. Olsen arrives with her stenographer. There are five of us packed into this little room. Dr. Olsen does not mince words. The biopsy results came back as positive for cancer. Poorly differentiated carcinoma. She wants me to get a PET scan and refer me to an oncologist in Ukiah — Dr. Wang (pronounced Wong). I ask her for a referral to UCSF for a second opinion. She says “of course” and then asks me if I’ve been sleeping. “Not very good.” She writes a prescription. I thank her. I call mom on our way to Diggers for shots of tequila and a beer.
The hard part. Sharing the news with family and friends. I believe there is power in numbers. Texts. Emails. Phone calls.
The second hard part. Waiting. Waiting for the referrals to go through. Waiting for the schedulers to call. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I hate being in limbo. I want to move forward. But I just have to wait.
October 9. I’m still waiting. I call the referral desk at Dr. Olsen’s and leave a message. The voice message says calls will be returned within 72 hours. What? I send a private message online to Dr. Olsen. She responds at 930 p.m. that she will find out what’s going on.
October 10. The scheduler for the PET Scan calls to let me know the scan is scheduled for October 16 at 1:30 p.m. Great news. He tells me to fast for at least 6 hours prior and to drink lots of water right up until the appointment. Dress in comfortable clothes. No metal. “Okay. See you then.”
October 11. Dr. Wang’s office calls. I have an appointment the next day at Noon. He wants to see me before the PET. Great. Forward motion. Finally.
October 12. I go to work until my appointment. Steve meets me at Dr. Wang’s office. Dr. Wang talks to me about the biopsy results. We ask if he thinks it is a recurrence of the breast cancer 19 years ago. He says the breast cancer was estrogen receptive. This cancer tissue is not. We ask if it is because of the radiation I had 19 years ago. It’s possible.
We ask for a definition of poorly differentiated carcinoma. This was his analogy. Ten pathologists look at a biopsy of well differentiated carcinoma. All ten determine it is breast cancer. The same ten pathologists look at a biopsy of mildly differentiated carcinoma and 5 determine it is breast cancer and the other 5 don’t know what kind of cancer it is. The same ten pathologists look at a biopsy of poorly differentiated carcinoma and none of them can tell what kind of cancer it is.
He schedules my next appointment for October 18 at 3:40 p.m.
There are no facts, only interpretations. —Freidrich Nietzsche