( Advanced Level )
Every day Dr. M. tells her patients not to give up. “Continue to fight the fight. Life is worth living. I am not giving up on you so why should you?” She never thought she would have to listen to her own words.
Dr. Megan McQueen heads her oncology department at the local public hospital. On a monthly basis, she sees patients battling some form of cancer. Not every case has a happy result but she fights the battle with them.
As for most doctors, their lives from the minute they wake up to the moment they put their head back on the pillow at night, revolve around patient care. Hopefully, making the right decisions with the best interest of their patients in mind.
Megan never had time for herself nor dating, so she never married. She always thought these were things in her future. The future never came. Instead, she immersed herself deeper into her work.
This was Dr. Megan’s life for the past eleven years. She had many skipped dinners. She had many sleepless nights. All for the love of her career.
She noticed a lump in her left breast about six months ago while taking a shower. She felt some tenderness but she shrugged it off to an injury at work. She felt she must have bumped into something.
As a general rule, breast cancer lumps are hard and painless. Usually, not symmetrical in shape. She didn’t give it a second thought.
Months went by. Her mind is always occupied by her patients. Constant struggles daily. Monitoring each patient’s treatments and their progress. Adjust medications if needed. Winning battles and losing some.
She always dreamt of being a doctor when she was young. When she became a doctor she hadn’t realized that you practically had to give up the idea of a normal life to care for patients. She didn’t mind, though. She loved what she did.
One day at work she noticed her left arm was a little painful when moving, especially when raising the arm higher than her waist. It was more of a discomfort than pain but it caught her attention.
She had a lunch break coming up soon and she would go see one of her coworkers about her arm. She thought it may be an issue with her neck or her shoulder. She never gave a second thought about the lump she had discovered months prior, in her left breast.
She met her coworker, Ben, in his office and told him about her arm bothering her. She told him she would need full use of this arm if she was to treat her patients.
Ben listened to her complaint and he asked about her medical history. The lump was not mentioned. She obviously forgot about it.
Since doctors cannot treat themselves or their family members, Ben was her choice. The two worked together for the past seven years and they got along well. He, too, was married to his work. Never had time to date or get married.
After a few minutes, he suggested to her to get a simple series of x-rays as a baseline. If nothing showed on the x-rays he would order additional procedures. Further investigation would be warranted at that time.
She took the slip of paper with orders for an x-ray of the chest, left shoulder, and neck area to the x-ray department to have the x-ray done on her lunch break. She never really ate lunch, half of the time, while she was at work.
The procedures were completed and she returned to Ben’s office where he sat eating a sandwich for lunch. He offered her half but she declined. She knew the results of her x-rays would go to him directly and since she was the staff they would be read rather quickly.
They sat having small talk while Ben finished his lunch. They talked about what they would love to do if they had time off from work. Each trying to outdo the other with what they felt was the ideal day off, a day of pampering.
The phone rang and Ben answered. “Yes, I see. I will be down in a moment.” Ben hung up the phone and told Megan, ” I have to talk to someone about a patient of mine. I will be back in a few minutes. Just sit here and relax for a change.”
As he was leaving the room Megan put her feet up on his desk and leaned back. Ben walked out. He thought to himself, “I hope what the radiologist sees on Megan’s x-ray is a mistake. Possibly a flaw or shadowing on the x-rays.“
Megan always felt at ease when she was around Ben. His suggestion to relax was stretched a bit when she put her feet up on his desk. Actually, she found it very relaxing and closed her eyes.
Ben met with the radiologist and reviewed the findings. There was definitely something there on her x-rays. Something that seems to involve her lymph node in her left armpit and something showing on a rib bone.
Ben left the radiologist’s office and headed back to his own. He didn’t want to alarm Megan but she needed to realize that further testing was needed and she could not delay anything. It could make the difference between life and death. Not only was she a valued co-worker but a dear friend.
He arrived back at his office to find Megan in the same position he left her in. He smiled and looked at her with admiration. She truly cared about each of her patients and would work nonstop to help them.
He decided to approach the findings to her in a matter-of-fact way. He couldn’t let the fact she was a co-worker or even a friend interfere with what he was about to tell her. He cleared his voice. She opened her eyes.
“Okay. I just reviewed your x-rays with the radiologist. That was the phone call I received. Megan, something is showing on them. It could be nothing or it can be something. “
He explained what he saw. “Tell me, when was your last mammogram? Have you noticed anything or found anything different with your left breast?”
She sat up in the chair. “Yes, about six months ago, while showering, I found a lump. It was a little tender to the touch but I didn’t think twice about it. You know, I can be clumsy at work so I figured I may just have hit it on something while taking care of a patient.”
Ben thought about the time frame that had passed and what he saw. ” Today, not later, I am ordering a bilateral breast ultrasound and bloodwork. Get these done. We may have to have a biopsy later on but for now, this is what I want you to do now. I will cover your patients until these are done.”
Megan couldn’t believe what she heard. These were usually words she would tell her patients. Now, she found herself in their position, as a patient.
Megan had taken the rest of the afternoon off from work to have the testing done. This is what Ben had wanted. She knew her patient’s care would be covered and in good hands.
Time seemed to stand still as Megan waited for all the results to come in. Here, after eleven years dedicating herself to her practice and her patients, she found herself feeling hopeless.
Is this how her patients felt? Waiting for news. Waiting for results. Waiting to hear that it could be cancer.
Megan retreated to her office waiting for any news from Ben. She knew it could take a bit for the results to come into his hands. Until then she sat in her office and reflected on her life.
Should she have tried making more time for herself? Should she have taken better care of herself? She loved what she did. Doctors never think about themselves becoming a patient.
The results came in and Megan was called into Ben’s office. Her heart was pounding as she reached his office and sat down. The same chair she had sat on earlier to relax.
“All indicators point to breast cancer, Megan. There isn’t any nice way to say this. I didn’t want to have to say these words to you. Tomorrow morning at 0600 you are scheduled for a ct guided biopsy to confirm this diagnosis.”
“If it is cancer we will fight this together. You will not be alone in this. I think it will be better for you to submit for extended time off from your work. Concentrate on yourself for a change. It will help in your recovery.”
Megan sat there absorbing Ben’s words. For years she had said these exact words to her patients. Now she was the one who had to listen.
The biopsy confirmed Ben’s thoughts. He took it upon himself to make all arrangements for treatment. He knew Megan might delay treatment until she had time to talk with all of her patients. Enough time had passed already.
Megan chose something not expected by any of her colleagues. She didn’t want to be treated differently. She asked to have her treatments alongside others. She felt she could inspire those having their own chemotherapy treatments.
Megan listened to Ben’s every instruction. She ate better. She made sure she would get plenty of sleep and most of all stayed positive.
Chemotherapy was going as well as expected. Megan didn’t have any side effects until seven weeks in. She noticed she was losing her hair little by little so instead of waiting for it all to fall out, strand by strand, she decided to shave it all off.
Her nausea was kept at bay with medication. She did have to force herself to eat when she hadn’t felt like it. She promised Ben she would fight the fight.
Surprisingly Dr. M had made many new friends during her treatments. Each new friend had their own stories. Each had a reason to live.
Being in therapy together has become a great support system, not only for Megan but for the others. When one was having a bad day the others were there to encourage and lift their mood.
Megan had something a little more special. She had Ben. He was there with her at her treatments when his schedule would allow. Some days she was embarrassed when she wasn’t at her best. He would tell her, “I think you’re beautiful no matter what you think. I am the doctor and I know everything!” This would always make her smile.
The sixth-month treatment marker was coming close. Ben would reevaluate her situation before this. She, too, was anxious to know if all of this she went through would be worth it. She knew inside she was still a woman but her outside didn’t look so feminine.
She wanted to look in the mirror, once again, and see her blonde hair and not see a bald head. She wanted to walk and not have people look at her with sympathy.
The day before her last treatment Ben had scheduled her for a bilateral mammogram and bloodwork. The results would let both, Megan and himself, know if more treatments were needed.
The day finally arrived. Her last treatment if all the results came back with excellent results. Megan was amazed that she had the strength to endure six months of treatment. With Ben and the other patients encouraging her it was easier than she thought.
Megan was busy talking to another to notice Ben had stepped into the treatment room. He walked up to her with papers in hand. She felt someone close and looked up. He had a huge smile on his face.
“We did it. I have your results in my hand. No signs of cancer.” Megan broke down and cried. She was relieved. “This doesn’t mean you are out of the woods, Missy. You will have regular checkups and mammograms every six months for a few years.”
Megan looked at her newly acquired friends. The friends who sat by her during her treatments and while having their own at the same time. She saw their happiness for her. “I will still be here for you. Every one of you,” as she glanced around the room. “You helped me get through the toughest time in my life and I will help you do the same.“
Written by: Angel
*October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month*
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oncology – noun: study of cancer
immersed – verb: involvement in a particular activity
tenderness – noun: sensitive to pain
symmetrical – adjective: similar sides or equally proportioned
adjusting – verb: alter or move (something) in order to achieve the desired result
discomfort – noun: slight pain, uncomfortable
warranted – verb: justify
procedures – noun: medical evaluation using investigative measures
declined – verb: refuse
small talk – noun: conversation about unimportant matters
outdo – verb: more successful
pampering – verb: spoil or indulge
flaw – noun: a mark, fault, or other imperfection
lymph node – noun: small structure that is part of the body’s immune system
alarm – verb: to feel frightened
admiration – noun: respect and approval
matter-of-fact – adjective: unemotional and practical
interfere – verb: prevent an activity from continuing or being carried out
radiologist – noun: medical doctor that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging procedures such as X-rays etc.
clumsy – adjective: awkward in movement or in handling things
ultrasound – noun: sound or other vibrations having an ultrasonic frequency, particularly as used in medical imaging
retreated – verb: withdraw to a quiet or secluded place
indicators – noun: fact that indicates the state or level of something
biopsy – noun: an examination of tissue removed from a body
absorbing – adjective: intensely interesting
colleagues – noun: a person who works in a profession or business with you
chemotherapy – noun: the treatment of disease by the use of chemical substances especially cancer
at bay – idiom: to control
reevaluate – verb: evaluate again or differently
feminine – adjective: qualities or an appearance associated with women
sympathy – noun: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune
endure – verb: suffer
acquired – verb: obtain
Question ( s ):
Have you known anyone who was diagnosed with cancer?
Do you usually have annual visits at your doctor’s to have a complete check up?