A Mother and her Two Daughters

31 August 2010

Beginning the Transition to Survivorship

I had my follow-up appointment today with the very brilliant Dr. Yuen, the UAMS specialist in oncology reconstruction.  Not only is his surgerical work artful, I’m amazed at how well my body is beginning to slowly take back form.  He will be in charge of this process for the next two to three months.  There is still much ahead - one more surgery and then radiation treatments - but we’ve sure come a long way since February 17th

Today as I left the oncology clinic, the nurse made my next appointment for September 28th.  WHAT???  That’s FOUR WEEKS AWAY, the longest time I’ve been away from my UAMS healing team since we began this challenging journey together.  Is my sense of panic what they refer to as the "transition to survivorship?" 

When I walked out of the Cancer Institute, my feelings were very mixed.  Prior to February, I didn’t even know Dr. Makhoul or Dr. Yuen, and Dr. Klimberg was a brilliant physician I admired from the sidelines.  But after six long months of medical tests and findings, treatment plans and pharmaceutical options, eight tougher-than-nails chemo treatments and body-blowing side effects, two surgeries and three hospital stays, sharing tears of fear and celebrating milestones, I've grown to admire, trust and love my medical team.  And while I'm only one of the many patients they treat, all patients agree that we are cared for as if we are the only person on the planet that day, not only by the physicians but the outstanding nursing staff like B, Michelle, Carla and the rest.  The doctors and nurses, technicians and receptionists, and the volunteers too - they have become incredibly important and special in my life as they all represent healing and new life to me.  

Can I make it for four weeks without them?  Of course I can.  The bigger question is this:  What is it that creates the special doctor-patient relationship, the bond that is developed, mostly by the patient, when a doctor has given you life? 

Feeling extremely confused, and a little bit silly, I came home to explore this crazy feeling of detachment from my super docs.  Isn’t this what I had hoped for – moving on to healing, the final finish line, and ultimately on to survivorship? 

And then my phone chimed, a text message from my youngest daughter.  It read simply this: “I wanna come home.” 

It was then that I realized -- like my daughter who is feeling a little homesick after her third week away at college, I'm already feeling a little homesick for my healing team. 

"Home" is where we are made to feel comfortable and relaxed, where love is openly shared each day among a circle of people who gift to us a sense of confidence, spiritual empowerment and hope for each day.  And while UAMS may not be my real home, it has become a temporary home-of-sorts that has sheltered, comforted, healed and cared for me since February.  UAMS has come to mean a team of people who have fought as ferocious FOR ME as I have for myself.  And during this time that I've been under their constant care, they have found a special place inside my heart.  And for that, for all of them, I will be forever grateful. 

Feeling homesick for your healing team is obviously a survivor issue that I must explore.  Otherwise, it will be necessary to (1) enroll in medical school so I can change my employment to UAMS, or (2) build a large compound and invite my doctors and their families for communal living.  Working through this separation anxiety is obviously a much better plan. And in the meantime, I'll find a way to CELEBRATE LIFE, CELEBRATE PROGRESS.  My prognosis can only be great if I'm to go for four weeks without a Cancer Center appearance.    

Update about myself:  I’m beginning to feel much better since yesterday, have reduced my pain medication by half, was able to get out of the bed this morning by myself (huge accomplishment!), and felt like a new woman after leaving the clinic with my drains removed.  Dr. Yuen said that I am healing nicely – and that’s the best news he could deliver. 

Oh yeah, P.S.  Anna-Lee will come home Sunday and stay through Tuesday morning.  It will be nice to have her home. 

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