Opinion: Column: Wait. What?

Opinion: Column: Wait. What?

After each individual appointment with my oncologist, either virtual or in person, all my prescription needs and my next round of appointments are scheduled while I wait. Typically, my oncologist will ask me which days and times are convenient. Our cycle for such responses is every three months, after my quarterly scans. Since it's a regular routine, we've come to know our schedules three months in advance so we can make suitable and available arrangements – both medically and socially, so as to not upset any previously scheduled apple carts. It's not that often that any non-cancer activities might conflict with a Wednesday morning in Gaithersburg. Nevertheless, scheduling is preferable to rescheduling. And since time is a-wastin', there's no time like the present to smooth out any potential blips on the calendar.

When we were scheduling this week's on-site day at the facility back in March, we knew we were going to Montana this month. The original Wednesday, June 16, when I should have been scheduled for my scans, was not totally inconvenient, but it was the day before we were leaving town. No problem. My health comes first, so I was ready to okay the 16th. Then my doctor suggested that I wait a week, until the 23rd, the day after I will have arrived home, because he said "Nobody wants to get bad news before a vacation." It seemed the lesser of two evils so I decided on the 23rd. Then it hit me: "What bad news?" Not that I have been particularly symptomatic of late or have emailed my oncologist every step of the way. Hardly. But I can't believe my oncologist's suggestion was totally innocent. Though he most definitely meant well (he's always talking about quality of life), it unfortunately ruffled my feathers and got me thinking about results and consequences – and of course, life expectancy. And since bad news travels fast, I didn't see a point in speeding it up. Whatever will be will be, and there's nothing I can do about any of it before my vacation which somehow affects my results after. If I've learned anything during these 12-plus years in the cancer world, it is that there's no need to hurry things along. Cancer works at its own pace and being flexible in the face of such imminent danger is the only way to roll.

But that's the dilemma us seriously ill/diagnosed patients experience. Do we delay the inevitable or do we naively hope for the best. I mean, how much respect do we give cancer? Somehow, we have to live our lives and occasionally "damn the torpedoes." And if we're not able to find a break in this very serious action, I imagine our wherewithal living forward might be adversely affected. Cancer has a way of getting under your skin (no pun intended) and then seeping into your subconscious. Before you know it, "the cancer" as "Forrest, Forrest, Gump" said, will likely make you a very dull boy or a "dismal Jimmy'' as the Brits say.

I chose to throw caution to the wind and live my life with the usual weight and not compound an already heavy burden by having my scan results emailed to me while I'm on vacation. I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing but I saw/see no reason to test my credentials. As a cancer patient, if I'm being honest/realistic, something bad could happen to me. I don't see any advantage to making matters worse, potentially, by forcing the issue.

I think why I'm focusing – and possibly overreacting, to this presumptive unpleasantness, is that it hadn't ever been suggested to me before by my oncologist in quite this context. Oh sure, he's talked about my health and various percentages of survival, but this last meeting, its directness caught me off guard. Sure we all laughed, but for a moment it raised the stakes and reminded me how fragile our existence is. I'm a very positive person, so I can usually fend off most emotional trauma. In fact, the title of one of my earlier columns was "Positive About the Negative." And though I've been quite able to keep my "terminal" diagnosis in perspective, hearing “nobody wants to get bad news before a vacation” may be considerate to suggest, but some things are better left unsaid, especially to a cancer patient.