The Day After: The Journey Begins; Cancer – It’s The “In” Thing

It’s the day after I received The News.

I still don’t “feel” very much. I’m still ever so grateful for all that JT had done – even just in listening to the doctor. I’m not alone.

The Journey Begins

The day started off with a call from the Nurse Navigator, bright and early at 8:30 AM. I’m beginning to wonder if my medical chart notes I’m of the subspecies homo sapiens vampirus. Definitely need to have that added if not. She introduced herself and explained that she was there to help coordinate all of the specialists I’d be seeing at PAMF. I suppose in some way she’s like the program managers I’ve had on projects. They’re the essential “glue” that binds things together although they’re sometimes in the background and overshadowed by the “stars” of the show.

The Nurse Navigator explained I should expect to get calls from a medical oncologist who would be the focal point for treatment, and a surgeon. We discussed a number of things such as the typical financial hit to patients. The usual out of pocket expense was the deductible which of course varies with each patient depending on their insurance. However other indirect effects such as loss of income could cause difficulties – fortunately they don’t apply in my case. Regardless, she said that there were resources available at PAMF should I feel I needed them. We also discussed about how I could learn more about the cancer I had (at that time I didn’t know it was rectal adenocarcinoma, though JT did. It’s always good to have the person picking you up from sedation hear whatever is said!). PAMF has a “patient binder” on colorectal cancer which provides information vetted by PAMF’s doctors, as well as some links to resources they believe are reliable.

The Nurse Navigator was very careful to point out that medical technology is progressing every day, and even some of the information in the patient binder may be a little dated. She noted, example, that these days many surgeries are performed laparoscopically, which allows surgeons to do more precise surgeries as well as improves recovery time in patients. And no matter what stage my cancer turns out to be they have a variety of ways to “cure”, and if not “cure” than to manage the cancer so patients continue to live long and fulfilling lives.

We were also able to schedule the CT scan for the following Tuesday.

It was a great call I was once again impressed with the quality of the professionals at PAMF.

Cancer – It’s The “In” Thing

Last night another friend, CG, who now lives in the north bay texted that she and her friend would be at Stanford Hospital for a “procedure” today. While we used to get together regularly I hadn’t seen her for close to a year – since she moved. I texted back last night that I wasn’t sure I’d be up for meeting. I’d just gotten a cancer diagnosis. It was a shock to her of course.

After speaking with the Nurse Navigator I headed to the lab at PAMF in Palo Alto so they could gather blood for the tests the gastroenterologist had ordered. PAMF Palo Alto is very close to Stanford Hospital, and I wasn’t in the mood to go home and sit around. So I headed over. After some hunting through the halls I was able to locate CG. We decided to walk around the Stanford Campus (aka “The Farm” – my old college stomping grounds). We of course talked about my situation. But I also learned that her friend’s lymphoma had likely returned, and the “procedure” being done today was to extract a lymph node to make a determination.

Cancer seems to be the “in” thing these days. It seems everyone has or has had it, or knows someone who did. One has to wonder if its because we’ve gotten better at testing for and diagnosing it (newer tests can even detect blood-borne indicators when a cancer is in its infancy), or because we’ve polluted our environment to an extent that it isn’t the best for our bodies. Here in the Bay Area we have a superfund site and I remember when buying my house that there one was listed close by. My real estate agent – a former coworker’s husband – said that in this area that’s very common.

While I was giving CG a tour of the Stanford Quad and its time capsules I got a call from the gastroenterologist. The initial pathology had been expedited and confirmed that the lesion she’d seen was what she thought it was. [edit: which is rectal adenocarcinoma. Not having a pen and paper handy, post-call all I remembered was something-something-carcinoma. Note to self, stash some paper in the wallet and bring a pen everywhere!] This is less than 24 hours after the colonoscopy, so they were certainly rushing things along! The gastroenterologist mentioned they would be running additional tests to look at some specifics of the biopsy and those would take a week or two. The CT and EUS were the next steps. I asked her if there were any lifestyle changes I could make to “game” the outcome, and she said no – just eat healthy and exercise, just like I was doing at that time walking around the Stanford campus. I continue to be impressed with the sincerity and gentleness I’ve seen from the gastroenterologist and the time she takes to answer my questions.

We continued our walk around the Quad, through White Plaza and parts of the campus which were no longer recognizable to me after all the construction that’s gone on over the past three decades. Gone was Meyer Library, as well as the Manzanita trailers. We wandered by the mausoleum, where I’m pretty sure I attended at least one Halloween party. Us vampire types appreciate a good gathering on All Hallow’s Eve. Eventually we wound our way back to the hospital.

While we were sitting outside enjoying a sunny California afternoon I got a call from the office of the gastroenterologist who would perform the endoscopic ultrasound. We scheduled it for the following Thursday at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. Things were moving so rapidly!

In the early evening CG’s friend was finally released. She went to get the car while I waited for her friend to be brought down to the lobby. We chatted for a few minutes and he pointed out we had something in common – we’re both on a cancer diagnosis journey. We intend to keep in touch and share our experiences.

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