Not What He Expected

I am finding joy and satisfaction where I can in this nutty cancer journey, navigating the behemoth of the medical system seeking individualized care and asking folks to think outside of the box.

Before each medical appointment in the hospital system I am washed in anxiety. I have found it to be unpredictable at times and frequently a bad case of telephone. The upside to having to retell my story every time I meet a new doctor is that I get to enjoy the shock and surprise when they meet me. Last night I met yet another surgeon who will be joining my surgery in eleven days. Upon first meeting me, this absolutely lovely human said “You look great!” My reply “I do thank you! I actually think I look the best I ever have in my entire life.” He goes on to mention that when he reads over files he gets ideas in his head of what the human will be like and after reading my file, I was not what he expected to find. Both he and the resident commented on the epic journey I have been on thus far and asked me a slew of questions. After the general replies I shared “I am a very health person who happens to have a bit of a mutation issue. My goal is to live a very long healthy life.” With that the resident said “Right on!” with a big smile.

I don’t know what they were expecting but this is not the first time I have had this reaction from doctors. I have had surgeons be wary of me and in retrospect approach me like I am the walking dead only to meet me again a couple of years later overjoyed and excited to help me because I am still around. I know I frustrate my health care team at times by not following their advice for chemotherapy again but I hope to show them that there is more than one way to walk this path. I have empathy for them in this situation and I appreciate their knowledge and skill and I also appreciate my inner wisdom and knowledge of myself. So far we have been able to dance pretty well together.

On the way home from my appointment I called my dear friend to chat. She also has her own collection of health issues and care providers that she navigates so she is no stranger to this kind of journey. When I recounted the lovely interaction I just had with my new surgeon and the resident she highlighted that offering our own hope and optimism to our care providers does help them help us. If we believe in ourselves they are more likely to believe in us. They see so much despair, hopelessness, loss that positive energy helps keep the wind in their sails to keep doing their work.

I am excited that my surgeon genuinely seems excited to help me when my day comes. He smiled at me and said “On the day of your surgery, whatever your other surgeon needs, I’m there.” I could feel he believed in me and wants to help me and this helps me believe in him. That is enormous to my mental state as I prepare to take this next leap.

In my doctors appointments I have loved being able to chat with the students doing my intake, and the residents who meets me first to get practice in their aspired role. I have had the more lovely inspiring conversations about my optimism in a seemingly dire situation than I ever expected. Students and residents are in a curious phase, taking in as much as they can. I like to think these small moments are an opportunity to shine some diversity in their repertoire in their career ahead, to expand their idea of what is possible. One thing I have learned as an educator over the past twenty years is that one conversation can change the way someone thinks and every conversation can be that conversation, you just never know.

NOTE: I have not always been/am not always optimistic in my visits. There is a spectrum. Some visits I am anxious, grumpy, and battling fear. With practice I have been able to manage those emotions a bit better but I am human and some days I just let myself be where I am at without judgement. Just like surfing it takes some time to learn to ride the wave.

Just another first date with a surgeon.

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