Chris has an appointment today to see the oncologist. What that means is that he will leave and drive to the hospital and get his blood drawn. I will make sure that Michael is up and moving, the dogs are set, and then I will get in my car and drive to the hospital. The hospital, University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora Campus, is only about 15 miles away. In the morning, during rush hour, it can take anywhere from 30-75 minutes to get there. Of course, since it is somewhere we don’t really want to go, the drive is stressful and annoying. After the blood draw, we will wait to see the oncologist.
The first time we went to the oncology clinic was after Chris got out of the hospital (October, 2009). It was during a snowstorm. We called the clinic to make sure that they were seeing patients and they told us that they were. They also told us that we should get there whenever we could and not to worry about our appointment time. We asked if they meant we should come then – they said yes.
Beyond driving in the snowstorm, I don’t remember much from the first trip to the oncology clinic. I think that over the last two years my impressions have all blended together and I just have feelings about it. I don’t like it.
For one thing, there are sick people there. Yes, I know that it is the oncology clinic, but some of the people look really sick. One time there was a man there who must have been having trouble with his liver because he was yellow. It was pretty scary to see someone who was yellow (the whites of his eyes were yellow). There are also people who don’t look sick at all and you wonder why they are there. When I go with Chris it is during the lung cancer clinic, so I know that there are people who have lung cancer, but that isn’t the only clinic being held at that time. There are people who clearly have breast cancer (the pesto-bismal pink clothing is a dead give-away). Usually, there aren’t any young people there, unless they are there with someone who has cancer (this is usually obvious by the way that they are “taking care” of the person with cancer). By young I mean in their 30’s and 40’s. Children are not allowed.
Then there are the puzzles. There are puzzles that are partially completed on tables for people to work on. Who can concentrate on a puzzle when you are sitting in the oncology clinic? I know that I can’t. I usually bring magazines because they require concentration for only a few minutes at a time. Most of the time I don’t remember what I read during the time I was sitting there.
Another thing at the oncology clinic is the wait. It is typical of any clinic and sometimes you wait forever. While waiting you can’t help but wonder if they have forgotten you, or if the doctor doesn’t want to see you because they have bad news. One time Chris and I waited in the waiting room for almost 90 minutes. Finally, he went to find out what was going on and they realized that they misplaced his chart going from the lab to the clinic (they are next to each other). My imagination was in over-drive that day.
After you get from the waiting room to the exam room, you wait more (again like a regular doctor’s office). Since University of Colorado Hospital is a teaching hospital, the doctor, when he finally arrives, usually has a med student with him and he will go over Chris’ history. Then he examines Chris. Generally, this consists of listening to Chris’ lungs. Next, he talks about the scans. This is the part that Chris and I have been anxiously waiting for. Nothing else really matters.
Dr. Bunn, the first pulmonary oncologist that treated Chris would take us into another room and show us the scans on the computer. This was good because we then had some idea of what he was talking about. But it was bad because we wondered what stuff was on the scans and if it was normal and Dr. Bunn went past it. It was also bad because we could see the cancer. Not really, but we could see the areas where the cancer was and that is a scary thing.
The doctor who is treating Chris now doesn’t usually show us the scans. He will talk about the report that he got from the person who read the PET scan. He will tell us about the tumor’s activity. He will tell us what the next step is in the plan and let Chris know if he has any options. He sometimes uses “big doctor words” and looks at me strangely when I ask what they mean. It is like he forgets that he is talking to a lay person. And either he’ll explain it or I’ll end up texting my brother, Jeff, to find out.
That is usually it for our visits to the oncology clinic. Chris then has to wait for them to get his meds together (since he is on a clinical trial drug, he gets them from the hospital) and he can leave. He usually drives to work from there and I drive home (or when I was working, to work).
The waiting part is the worst. The anxiety starts in our home after Chris has had his scan, but before we have seen the doctor at the clinic. If there is good news from the doctor (and we consider that the cancer staying the same is good news) then the anxiety dissipates. If there isn’t good news from the doctor, the anxiety builds until the next course of treatment (or doctor’s visits or scans) start. Then things calm down for a bit until we know what is happening next. Some days it feels like we are on a roller coaster that we have all grown tired of and want to get off. Other days, it lurks in the back of our minds and almost fades away. Finally, there are days when it is unbearable and there is nothing we can do. And this is for me and the boys. I can’t imagine how it feels for Chris, but it must be worse for him than it is for us, since he not only has to deal with the emotional aspects, he has to deal with the physical aspects too.
I think though, the worst day, is the day before. I dread the day before the oncology clinic visit. I dread it because I know that the next day we will have to go and deal with the cancer. I know that the odds are against us when it comes to getting good news. That as we approach the 2 year mark, we are beating the odds (the prognosis for Stage IV Lung Cancer is 6 months to 2 years) and that can’t continue. That is the really scary part.
I will update my blog later today (Wednesday, August 31, 2011) or tomorrow.