It was almost a road trip.
A dear friend (Casey) and I took the hour or so drive down to Palo Alto for the second opinion. I’d been wavering on this for awhile: I liked my oncologist, knew she was offering the standard and best treatment options, and the cost for this appointment was near-prohibitive. Arranging yet another medical appointment just added to the hassle and pile of disability paperwork, bills, and gathering bureaucratic flotsam of disease- and life-management. And taking yet another day off from work added to the disconnect I am/was already feeling from my previous life, which every day seems like a shore to which return becomes less possible, a skirt whose hem is unraveling into disarray.
But the confines and corridors of hospitals offer some kind of architectural antidote to chaos, I think, and such was the feeling of certainty and organization at Stanford that, in addition to valet parking, the waiting areas themselves felt like a new home. Subdued beige and brown colors, warm lighting, clear partitions between soft sofa sections — I felt like a welcome and known tourist. We’ve got this, the decor seemed to say. We’ll take care of it. All around was the hush of quiet resolve. Magazines. Efficient secretaries. The reassuring sounds of keyboard clicks.
My name was eventually called and Casey and I went in to the exam room. The doctor came in, introduced himself, and my first impression was that he was a kind and professional, matter-of-fact man. He had taken extensive notes and proceeded to outline the previous two years of my condition, checking in to make sure all was accurate. I was honestly impressed. He even had a booklet with pre-written notes. He then examined me, affirmed that my current treatment plan was spot-on, and opened up the appointment for questions. I had many, a full list of my own, which I won’t deliberate here except to say that: he took his time. I didn’t feel rushed. He was calm, reassuring, factual. I felt such gratitude for this. The bottom line? Even if this protocol doesn’t work, even though a triple negative breast cancer recurrence is frightening to the core, isn’t good news, doesn’t bode well, means chemo resistance and possible death in 1-3 years (none of which he said, by the way), even with all of these, there is this: Stanford is a hotbed of TNBC research right now, that immunotherapy trials are available, that continuing to eat healthy, to exercise, to gather dear friends and a squad/coven/circle of support matters, that options are out there, and that in this science and medicine and long car rides with speeding and stop-and-go police-ticket traffic — still: this is not the end of the road for you, traveler.
And perhaps this is evidence of my near-worship of doctors, the balm I hope for in their hands. This may be the desperation of all of us whose lives are called suddenly into question: Help me, science. Salve my dis-ease. I don’t know. And it’s possible I was hoping for some kind of rebirth — it’s possible that a hospital can be a kind of church. I imagine that hope itself is a kind of healing, and wise doctors know as they look at the patient – the mother, the father, the friend or sister or son — the scales must be tipped so gently, so delicately, with truth. I don’t know how they do it. And yet – like love calling us to the things of this world – they do.
The appointment came to a close, and Casey asked a few questions and heard some things I didn’t, which is important. Take a spouse or friend with you. They will hear what you will not, will tell back what you passed over.
Finally, we left the hospital and went to Stanford Mall. There is nothing to distract intense cancer talk like I’ll-never-really-buy-this-sequined-dress “shopping” at extravagant designer boutiques, lunch, laughter, and Sprinkles cupcakes. OMG OMG OMG. Lemon blueberry!
Bottom line: I’m glad I made this appointment. It validated the current treatment protocol, cast a wider net on later, as-needed treatment options, offered a sense of the bigger medical picture on triple negative breast cancer, helped me learn about my friend’s prior career as a chicken dealer, and opened me up to a whole new world of pastries. There are no cons except the cost.
Please do share your experience with second opinions, Stanford, or Sprinkles, or any combination thereof or other. Love out.