When you get cancer, words you rarely use pop to the top of your vocab list.
“Oncology” is one of them.
My gynecologist said it first, but the word really hit home when I read it on the appointment letter from UNC Hospital:
UNC OBGYN GYN ONCOLOGY
I began to talk about MY oncologist.
Dr. Gehrig is the head of the department, an expert in endometrial cancer and laproscopic and robotic surgery.
That Monday morning, Cliff and I made our way down a hallway with a huge sign shouting the word again:
First came registration and then weight, blood pressure, and a few other checks.
Next they ushered us into a small exam room. My eyes immediately caught this poster:
Prior to this, I most often used “survivor” in reference to the TV show. Add “survivor” to the updated vocab list.
UNC is a teaching hospital. I met with the Fellow, Dario Roque, who turns out, went to Davidson College. He partied with my kids! (and more importantly, studied hard with my kids).
Dr. Rogue brought out a chart of the female reproductive organs.
“From your pathology, we know you have an early stage, non-aggressive cancer on part of your uterine wall” (“pathology” being another vocab word I would use over and over in the coming weeks), “but we don’t know what types or stages of cancer we’ll find in the remainder of the uterus.”
I learned the difference between the type of cancer and the stage. “Stage” is how far the disease has spread.
“If the cancer has penetrated more than fifty percent of the uterine wall,” Dr. Roque explained, “you’ll need radiation.”
I asked about the dreaded chemo.
“With endometrial cancer, we only do chemo if the cancer has gone into your lymph nodes.”
He explained the surgery. Five incisions in the abdomen, one for a camera. “We pull the uterus out the vagina unless your uterus is too large. Then we have to make a bigger incision in your abdomen. We’ll remove nodes. We’ll test all of it while you’re still under anesthesia.”
Happily, my uterus proved, during the exam that followed, not to be large. Who knew?
After the exam, Dr. Gehrig came in and went over my diagnosis and the procedure again, briefly.
“Bring a list of questions,” Cliff had told me over and over.
I was so nervous, I never brought out my list.
But I asked plenty of questions and got lots of answers. Cliff took notes.
Last, I met the researchers.
I agreed to participate in several studies, including the study from the poster above. For the first time, I realized I might help cancer patients who come after me.
Cliff and I had an hour and a half before I was due in what UNC calls “Precare:” chest x-ray, blood tests, a talk with the nurse about hospital prep, and an EKG. We hotfooted it up to Franklin Street to restaurant row, right off the UNC campus.
We courted in Chapel Hill in the 70s. I was in grad school there, and Cliff was finishing his engineering degree at Duke. Back then my uterus was just a young thing, and its only problem was cramps.
We stepped into Spanky’s, on the corner of Franklin and Columbia Street.
I opened my menu.
My mind spun from the morning events. I liked the doctors and staff. I was scared, sure, but encouraged by what I learned about the surgery and expectations for recovery.
Cliff and I have been eating out together for years, lots of years. Festive outings filled with lively conversation and good food.
“Festive” is not a word I ever thought would go on my cancer vocab list.
But “festive” describes that lunch.
Festive since I love portabello mushroom melts and Spanky’s.
Festive thanks to the good vibes we got from UNC Hospital.
Festive because I sat across from a husband who knows how to make the best of a ninety minute break from medical vocabulary.
“Festive” comes from the word “festival,” which means “a time of celebration.”
“Celebrate” isn’t a word I thought I’d add to the cancer vocab list either.
But in the weeks to come, I learned I had plenty to celebrate, in ways that surprised me.
Stick with me! The story continues. Thanks for reading and for all your love and good wishes.