Two years ago, I nearly lost the lower half of my left lung because the wrong Lord led the Charge of the Light Brigade.
The battle against cancer is like any other battle. To win the battle or minimize damage, the combatants need a good fearless leader – the RIGHT fearless leader. Who should be the lead doctor after a cancer diagnosis?
My cancer journey started with a cough. After drinking mugs of hot ginger tea and prescribing myself antihistamines and cough syrups none of which sent the cough characters packing, I grudgingly accepted the worthlessness of my medical degree from Web College. It was time for professional cough analysts.
When I went back for jury duty in Albuquerque, I visited my Physician’s Assistant (PA), a tall, Hispanic woman, mid-30’s. She went through the stethoscope motions and had my lungs x-rayed.
“I don’t like what I saw in your x-ray,” she said. “Two years ago your lungs looked fine. I’ll order a CTscan.”
The word “CTscan” planted eerie thoughts of cancer to my head. My knees buckled. My PA owned me.
The CTscan image showed a gumball-sized tumor at the bottom of the left lung and several tiny ones in both lungs. My lung image looked like the Milky Way with a small Flying Saucer at the bottom right corner. Not a pretty picture.
With my inner Wonder Woman still in snoring mode, I remained at my PA’s mercy. She sent me for a PETscan. The result came with good news that no part of my body lit up.
“We need to know more about the tumor in your left lung,” My PA continued to terrorize me. “I’ll refer you to a Pulmonologist. He’ll order a biopsy.” That was the last I heard of her.
The Pulmonologist, a handsome – think George Clooney – Haitian man, reviewed the picture of my lungs with me. “I don’t know what that thing is,” he said, pointing to the Flying Saucer.
“No kidding,” I deadpanned. “I dug deep into my casino funds to pay you to tell me that?”
He laughed. “We’ll get that puppy biopsied. I’ll find a Radiologist who can do a video-assisted biopsy.”
Dr. George Clooney found a Radiologist to perform the VATS biopsy. After the biopsy, my husband and I drove back to our California residence. I was as nervous as a whore in church while waiting for biopsy news.
I had just finished eating grilled salmon collar and rice in my kitchen when my cell phone buzzed furiously inside my apron pocket. I picked the cellphone up right away. I did not want the phone to send vibrations to my thigh and other unmentionables. I was also curious it might be Dr. George Clooney. Sure enough it was him.
“You have cancer,” he declared, just like that.
My mind went blank. My mouth opened but no words came out. I don’t remember how the conversation went and ended. Dr. George Clooney had probably had many of those awkward moments with newly diagnosed cancer patients.
My husband and I drove back to Albuquerque and met with Dr. George Clooney. He said he found a Thoracic Surgeon, who agreed to surgically remove the cancerous tumor.
“Your tumor is in a beautiful location,” he swooned. “It’s operable.”
“No cancer tumor is beautiful anywhere,” I chortled. My inner Wonder Woman had awakened during our drive across the Mojave Desert. Plus I had already passed “Nodules 101” at Google University.
My husband, who was then into googling clinical trials, argued hard against surgery but Dr. George Clooney would have none of it. Tired of the septuagenarian, the Haitian Doc pulled me aside and whispered, “Don’t let him talk you out of the surgery. I’ll refer you to a very good Thoracic Surgeon.”
I met the Thoracic Surgeon. The highfallutin butcher was middle-aged, Anglo, and short. I wondered if he would have to stand on a stool to perform surgery on me.
“I will perform the surgery after you’ve passed the Breath Test and the Strength Test.” It sounded like an edict.
I did pass both tests and the nurse declared me “reproducible.” Translation: I was in good shape for surgery. I won’t conk out while my lung is being clamped and snipped under anesthesia. I would live to tell the tale.
Surgery day came. During the procedure, I learned later, the Thoracic Surgeon felt one of the tinier nodules. The gritty feel told him it’s cancer. He stopped the operation immediately and sewed me up, declaring it was senseless to remove a portion of a lung when other nodules still had to be dealt with. He recommended an oncologist at the New Mexico Cancer Center.
We saw an oncologist at the NM Cancer Center and one at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center. I picked the UNM Onc to be my Onc. He immediately put me on Tarceva.
After 100 days on Tarceva, my CTscan showed 80% shrinkage of the Flying Saucer, substantial decrease in size and number of the “too many to count” nodules, and my lungs still intact.
So, what was so wrong that I almost lost half of my left lung? Bad fearless leader! The Pulmonologist, who took the lead, knew the CANCEROUS tumor was operable. He went straight to the Thoracic Surgeon. THE PULMONOLOGIST NEVER ASKED A CANCER SPECIALIST, AN ONCOLOGIST. The Thoracic Surgeon NEVER ASKED THE PULMONOLOGIST TO ASK AN ONCOLOGIST. Neither of them knew about Tarceva or targeted drug therapies.
Knowing what I know now, as soon as I find out the biopsy says cancer, I’d go straight to an Oncologist. I’d ask him if there is targeted therapy for my case. If he says “none”, I’d ask him about clinical trials. If he is clueless, I’d google “university hospitals that conduct clinical trials” and go from there, at all times being my own advocate.
That’s what this “swami” says.