Unfortunately, we all have a story about the stupidest thing anyone ever said to us about our cancer. I was reminded of this by the TalkAboutHealth question I recently answered on this subject. The answers were stunning – how did we get through those sometimes well-meaning, but hurtful statements? Although I was glad to share my answer, I realized that the stupidest thing anyone ever said to me was far less important than the best. So I want to turn the tables and talk about the best thing anyone ever said to me. It happened early and was the first true gift of my cancer experience.
My questionable mammogram was done in late September of 2008. In November, I was back at the breast center for a stereotactic core biopsy. All the women I’ve talked to who have gone down this road agree this test is the most painful. Basically, you lie stomach down and drop your breast through a hole in the table. Underneath is a mammogram machine. The radiologist exactly positions your breast (which takes a lot of pulling and stretching) and then the mammogram clamps down on your breast, pinning you to the table. Then the real fun starts. A core needle is inserted into the breast, laterally along the chest wall. Oh, and for some reason, the machine makes loud noises.
Now, you’ve been given a pain killer, but it doesn’t work completely. This process was so overwhelming, I nearly fainted on my way back to the dressing room.
When the radiologist had me positioned in the mammogram and was looking at the screen, she obviously noticed my anxiety. She put her hand on my shoulder. That’s when she told me, “I guarantee whatever it is you’re going to be okay, because it’s so small.” This is a direct quote which I will never forget.
I was under great stress, but I immediately translated her words to mean the following: “I’m a doctor, we rarely, if ever, say “guarantee”, so listen up. When I say “whatever it is,” you and I both know I mean “cancer,” and, by saying, “you’re going to be okay,” I’m telling you, “you’re not going to die.”
I wasn’t actually diagnosed until the following February. That one sentence got me through those many months of fear and worry, because at least I knew for sure I was going to live. I’m sure the radiologist told me her name, but I wasn’t in a state to remember it. I wish I did. What I do remember are her words, which sustained me and pulled me through some very bad months. It was the kindest, most important thing anyone told me during that diagnostic period, and I will always be grateful to her for saying it.
Although I never got the opportunity to thank the radiologist personally, I make a point to share her words with the medical students and residents I meet as a patient educator with The Connection’s Pathways Women’s Teaching Project. I’ve talked about my work with this organization in other posts. I do it because I know how important that one doctor’s statement was to me. Hopefully, by passing that on to medical students and residents, they will understand that their interactions with their patients are equally important. By taking her lesson to heart, I guarantee they will be better doctors and, more importantly, better healers.
Survival > Existence,
Image courtesy of Bram Cymet