Last Tuesday, the 5th, my son picked me up and we headed for my appointment down at the CU medical center — known as the Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center at the University of Colorado Cancer Center in the Anschutz Outpatient Pavilion (AOP) on the UC Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Not sure what its call name is among employees. Maybe just the Breast Center.
Pulled up to the front door on a rainy morning and happily availed ourselves of the free valet parking. I was impressed before I even got into the building. Followed the instructions to take Elevator C to the 2nd (or was it 3rd) floor and there we were, fifteen minutes early. I was greeted immediately and the paperwork started — insurance info first, naturally. All of five minutes. And just as I picked up the clipboard with the questionnaire, we were called back to an examining room. What? No waiting?
Not two minutes after we were seated, in comes the navigator to introduce herself. Introductions and smiles all around. She handed me a folder full of assorted information, brochures, suggested questions for the doctor, etc., then sat in front of the computer firing the typical questions at me — name, rank, serial number — and entering my responses. I still hadn’t gotten to work on the stuff on the clipboard.
Then a smooth changing of the guard as my surgeon came in, shadowed by the requisite medical student, intern, or something. Never did catch who the shadows were. Delightful woman, the surgeon, telling me everything I needed to know and answering every question either my son or I could think of (I mostly listened and talked, he mostly listened and took notes). The white-coated student sat quietly against the far wall (maybe eight feet away in that tiny room), all but invisible.
Then another changing of the guard and the medical oncologist came in, trailed by his shadow. Extensive information dispensed, questions asked, notes taken.
Throughout all this we were discussing all the test results from several different sources that had finally been brought together in one place. The elusive HER-2/neu report actually arrived as we were talking.
Then it was exam time. Under different circumstances, it could have been comedy time. The son got shooed out of the room and the oncologist examined my breast where the biopsy had been done. His shadow watched intently from the other side of the table.
Then they asked if the surgeon (and her shadow) could return and of course I said yes. So we had five adults in the “spacious” examining room, with my left boob the center of attention. At that point laughter was my only defense. At least I was on the table and didn’t have to worry about getting trampled.
My heart and lung function was mentioned, so the oncologist slid his stethoscope up the left side of my back and his shadow followed suit on the right side. “Take a deep breath. Again. Again.” Yep, two stethoscopes confirmed I do have a fully functioning heart and lungs.
Then the surgeon wanted to feel the tumor. “Maybe a little thickening … there.” And then the oncologist again. “Nope.” And their shadows. “Nope.” “Nope.” Only one of four could feel anything. And she wasn’t sure. Yet they all knew exactly where it was supposed to be.
But fun and games aside, the discussion turned to treatment. What and why. A serious, three-way conversation between the surgeon, the medical oncologist, and me. Discussion back and forth until the physicians agreed and a solid case had been made. Because the tumor is in an odd place and obviously hard to locate by any method, the surgeon said she’d prefer to do the lumpectomy first, without first trying to shrink the tumor with chemo and possibly making it even more difficult for her to locate. That, in turn, would give pathology a larger tissue sample to work with and provide the oncologist with a second path report from a different lab to help decide which drugs to use.
The most important part of that report will be the HER-2/neu findings. The results of the first HER-2 report were “equivocal,” or as the oncologist interpreted it, “negative-ish.” He wants their own lab to take another look at it after surgery because it will determine which drugs he uses. And some of them could be pretty heavy duty stuff — cardiotoxic. Neither of us wants to go that route unnecessarily.
Then I was asked if I wanted to talk to the radiologist, who was just down the hall, but I declined. The decision I made would be surgery before chemo or after chemo. Radiation would be last, regardless.
So that was it. Almost three hours with my CU team. I thanked everyone as they filed out of the room. Last one out was a little medical student who looked more like a wide-eyed high schooler. “Thank you,” I said, and smiled. She looked kind of sad, with her head down. “I think you know more than I do.”
Then the circus began down at the valet stand. It was raining. It was lunchtime. And it looked like a mass evacuation. There were about six different red-jacketed valets running back and forth across the three-lane drive, and every lane was full. The closest lane wasn’t moving at all because one car appeared to be parked. Others were still trying to get into that lane because it was the only one under the overhang. Then in the middle lane we heard a loud crrruuunch. An elderly driver had tried to maneuver from the center lane to the outer lane and managed to crumple his fender and that of another car. Both of which had to stop, of course, for the requisite accident report. Anyway, it was a zoo.
Maybe the next time it won’t be raining, it won’t be noon, etc. One can hope. After all, free valet parking on a crowded, unfamiliar university campus is a luxury. I think.
Oh, and that questionnaire on the clipboard … never did finish it.