The feeling of being in control of my life comes and goes these days. Tough for someone used to having full control of every minute in her day. Things are settling down a bit now and it’s hard to remember, much less describe, the two days that followed my MRI on Weds., April 29. Two days before the weekend, two days in which to decide what to do next, who to call to get which records sent to whom, two days in which to make appointments (with five different doctors in two different locations almost 50 miles apart). And while no one was saying it was an urgent situation, nobody wanted to waste time. The first doctor had said whatever decisions were made, treatment should begin within four to six weeks. And several weeks had already passed. But hey, no pressure …
I had to schedule appointments down at the CU Cancer Center to see doctors for the second opinion I wanted. A daunting prospect considering what a major university medical campus is like with its multiple hospitals, schools, centers, and departments. But luckily for patients, there are angels in the system. Angels called nurse navigators.
It started with the “scheduler” for the surgeon I’d seen first (that’s what he called her but she’s a navigator if there ever was one). She gave me the name and number of the navigator at CU who would handle everything at that end. One call to one woman who scheduled my appointments with three different doctors, coordinated the transfer and receipt of all necessary records from the first doctor, and easily and patiently answered every question I asked. The first few times I called her, she answered the phone herself. That’s a miracle right there. A few other times I got her voicemail — directly, not after wading through a mind-numbing menu of options — and got a call back within an hour or two. It was as though I were her only concern, her only patient. And yet I knew she must have been doing the same thing simultaneously for dozens of people.
By the time I got back to the first navigator (she and the first doctor are located at a hospital in Louisville, halfway between here and Boulder) on Friday to find out who to call in Boulder, my emotions were fried. I was almost in tears. She quickly offered to schedule the appointments for me and at that point, I was only too happy to let her. She called back a little later with the dates, times, and names of the doctors.
When I finally got off the phone for the last time Friday afternoon, I was totally exhausted but also greatly relieved. Things had gotten done, items had been checked off my list. I had an appointment the following Tuesday, May 5th, at the CU Cancer Center, with all three of the specialists who would be handling my case — the breast surgeon, the medical oncologist (chemo), and the radiation oncologist. All in one place, at one time. I never imagined that could happen in such a huge institution, but it did. And I also had appointments with the two doctors I needed to see in Boulder — the medical oncologist on Friday (May 8, yesterday) and the radiation oncologist on Monday the 11th. I wondered why the two in Boulder, in the same building, on a much smaller campus, couldn’t get together at the same time, but at least the appointments had been set. I’d be seeing the “second opinion” team first, but I didn’t think it mattered. The point was to see all the doctors as soon as possible, to gather all the information necessary to make a well informed decision about my treatment.
This last week, sometime in the middle of the week, an unexpected call came in. It was the navigator in Boulder. She’d seen my name on her calendar, knew I’d be coming in, and called “just to get acquainted.” We must have chatted for 20 minutes or more, as though we were BFFs with nothing else to do. I don’t remember what all we talked about but at one point she mentioned she listened to people’s breathing to judge how they were feeling. She talked about how hard it is to ask for help when you’re used to being independent and especially when you live alone, and assured me there were innumerable friends who’d been through the same thing (herself included) waiting to help me. I’m sure all new breast cancer patients hear something similar, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you’re the patient. I got so choked up I couldn’t speak and struggled for what seemed forever to regain my composure. And then she said quietly, “Breathe.” And I did. And smiled at her magic. And was able to finish the conversation.
“Be sure to come by my office Friday when you’re here, so we can meet,” she said, and I assured her I would. You don’t pass a friend’s door without saying hi.
As I was hanging up, she added, “I’ve got chocolate!”