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Breast Cancer Chronicles: Yes, Lois, I Know I Am Not The Only Person In The World With Cancer!

Updated on September 22, 2012

How Long Before Breast Cancer Spreads?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July. It is now the middle of September. I will be having surgery next week. I am still not sure whether it will be a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. I won't know until I wake up. Why the unknown? Because I was unable to have the breast MRI. I tried, really. The nurses and I worked for 45 minutes before we gave up. It just wasn't going to happen because of my neck and my asthma.

I have had MRI's before. They are not that difficult, but this was a different creature. Most MRI's are done while you are laying on your back. A breast MRI is done with you on your stomach. There is a hole for your head and neck to slip into and a little further down are two square holes. They are not for your elbows...

In 2006, I had bone grafted into my cervical spine (neck). Four grafts, to be exact, so I have limited range of motion. I have difficulty bending my head up or down and even from side to side. Trying to get my head into that hole, in the right position, was impossible. I had the IV in my arm and I am very stubborn. I WAS going to have this test! I finally was able to get into a position that we thought I could hold for 30 minutes. It was painful, but I am tough. Okay, not so tough... The kicker was a support that had to be lowered onto my back. It is meant to keep you still, but for me, it presented breathing problems. That is when the nurses, one crying, called it off. They told me that my breathing was becoming compromised.

They were so kind. These two women and their support were the best part of a miserable day. They told me that the doctor will just have to be ready to face surprises when he does the surgery. Not the best situation, but it will be okay.

When You Know That You Should Leave The Medical Profession

Two days after the failed MRI, I got a message from the surgeon. He simply said, "Let's get this show on the road. Call me." I called the surgery office and Lois, the scheduler, answered the phone. I introduced myself (had already met her) and said that I needed to get my surgery scheduled. She told me that the doctor was planning to go on vacation October 1st. I was mortified! Wait until the middle of October? No way! I told her that was not acceptable; we had to get this before it spreads, if it hasn't already. That is when she hit me with the unexpected. "Jillian, you are not the only person in the world with cancer." Yes, Lois, I know that, but I need to get this done before it spreads. "Jillian, there are other people who need this surgery, too and it is very difficult to schedule." I asked her why it was so hard to schedule and she proceeded to give me a rundown on what procedures needed to be lined up. There would be the needle loc(whatever the hell that is?), the sentinel node biopsy (Thank you, Doc!) and then the actual surgery, all back to back. I asked if this was different from what she schedules for everyone else and she said, "No, it is the same surgery." Then why is it so difficult? "Because, Jillian, you are not the only person with cancer. Other people need this, too." I proceeded to tell her that the hospital system that we work for has 10 hospitals, hundreds of clinics and employs over 15,000 people. They are always advertising for more patients. I said, "Why are we advertising for more patients if we cannot handle the ones we have?"

The third time that Lois informed me that I am not the only person in the world with cancer, I very selfishly said, "Lois, to my kids, right now, I AM the only person with cancer and I will not wait until God only knows when you are ready to do your job. I hung up, crying hysterically. I called my primary care physician, sobbing. Her nurse was livid. "She did NOT say that to you, really?" Yes, she did. The nurse got my doctor, and while she may be tiny and looks like she is 10, she is not soft spoken. She is a force to be dealt with, and quite frankly, I would not want to deal with her if she was angry with me. I don't think Lois knew what hit her!

The next day, with the assistance of a few other forces who shall remain nameless (when you work for a hospital system the CEO is an email away), Lois called and had scheduled my surgery for next week. Amazing that something so difficult was scheduled in just a few, short hours! It is an outpatient procedure, provided it is just a lumpectomy. I will go home the same day.

When you reach the point in your career in health care that you callously tell a patient that they are insignificant and that their illness is an inconvenience for them, it is time to leave the field. If I ever treat a patient the way that I was treated, I would deserve to lose my job that very minute. Every patient is important and every patient should be treated with respect, care and concern. If you do not treat a patient the same way that you would treat a member of your own family, it is time to go.

Pre-Op Madness

There is the blood work, the pulmonary function testing, the EKG, the chest Xray,the typing and cross-matching of blood, and on and on. It was all done this week.

I am tired, but next week, I am going to sleep like a baby, for a few hours, at least. The anesthesiologist will make sure that I do. That is one of the reasons that I love anesthesiologists. The fact that they are also the people who keep you breathing during a surgery has a little bit to do with that affection, too.

Whether I wake up with one breast or two, it really doesn't matter. I just want to wake up and have the cancer gone...

And yes, Lois, I know that I am not the only person in the world with cancer. There are millions of us and you need to treat us with some humanity. We are frightened enough, without you making it worse.


Submit a Comment

  • amillar profile image

    amillar 5 years ago from Scotland, UK

    I bet the health insurance company didn't say, “you're not the only person in the world” when they signed you up to the policy.

    All the best.

  • profile image

    Howard Schneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

    It is amazing how inconsiderate and incompassionate some people can be. Best of luck next week, Jillian. I am sure you are looking forward to this stage being over. Thanks for giving us some insight into this dysfunctional healthcare system as you pass through it. Remember all of us care and are thinking about you.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Jillian - I am horrified at your experience. I worked for a single healthcare system, (4000 employees) who had an amazing breast cancer program. If any one of us had ever made a remark like Lois did, we would have been gone instantly. No, you are not the only one with cancer but YOU should be treated as if you were. You are the one that is scared and traumatized and Lois' job was to reassure you and make you feel like the world has stopped turning until you are taken care of.

    Do you have patient navigators at your facility? If so, make sure they know how Lois spoke to you. They have quite a bit of influence with which surgeon gets the referral after the mammographers and pathologists make the diagnosis. When the surgeon starts seeing his numbers drop, he/she will start asking why. The navigators can handle him/her.

    I wish you the best as you head into surgery and will keep you in my prayers.

  • Jillian Barclay profile image

    Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA

    Dear LesleesBits,

    Congratulations! You passed the 5 year mark and I am so happy for you and your loved ones! The waiting and the not knowing-you hit the nail on the head, sister!

    Thank you.

  • LesleesBits profile image

    Leslie 5 years ago from State College Pa

    Best of luck to you. I am a 7 year survivor. The waiting and the not knowing are the worst part. It is a journey that was so difficult but gave me such an appreciation for my life. We truly are blessed. I will keep you in my prayers. After all we are sisters now.