Assumptions and the School of Cancer

Assumptions and the School of Cancer By: MsInterpretation October 11, 2011

As with many living with a chronic, terminal or unresolved health issue, I’ve become a student of my condition. I’ve found, in the course of my schooling, that Assumptions abound.

Diagnosis and the assumption: I felt in pre-school when my doctor said, in gentle tones: “You have DCIS: Ductal carcinoma in situ.” She handed me the lab report, and wrote down a website, instructing: “Only look at this particular information, The rest will just freak you out.” Providing specifics of a website seems responsible, recognizes the power of the internet, and is in keeping with the principles of Participatory Medicine.

I remember none of this. I know it happened, because I have the paper to prove it. What I do remember is that I understood DCIS to be exactly the opposite of what it meant. What I understood from DCIS was, “Cancer’s in my ducts. That’s the same as lymph nodes. That’s bad. In situ. That must mean it’s inoperable. I have to prepare myself for death. And I also need to prepare my family.” I left the office a dead woman.

It was a friend (diagnosed with DCIS more than a decade before) who described it as “the best kind of cancer.” Calmed, I unhesitatingly went forward with the first line of defence: lumpectomy.

Assumption 1: The doc assumed I understood the terminology.

Surgery and the assumption: I’m now in Grade School: in recovery room, after the lumpectomy, someone who wasn’t my surgeon said: “Looks good. The incision heals from the inside out. See you in two weeks.” Through the fog of anesthesia, I heard but did not compute, and – more importantly – did not ask about that business of ‘healing from the inside out’.

Over the next two weeks, seemed the incision was oozing, so I cleaned it – only to learn at my next visit that ‘inside out’ meant oozing was normal and that cleaning it made more scarring.

Assumption 2: The doc assumed I’d understand the implications of ‘healing inside out’

Follow up and the assumption: I’m feeling Junior High: After surgery, having come to (what I thought) was an informed understanding of risks/benefits/ of radiation, I made the decision not to proceed. At the door, leaving, the doctor (I can’t help but believe) was well-meaning but laid on me these guilt-inducing words, ‘I hope you’re not a victim of survivor’s euphoria’. A victim! Survivor’s Euphoria! I thought right then and there about dropping out of this school.

Assumption 3: The doc assumed guilt and fear would make me ‘comply’

Tutoring and the assumption: Lucky for me, a family member who was a doctor trained in statistics. Once contextualized, the statistics made more sense for my situation. I made a 180 on my decision, and went ahead with 5-weeks of radiation.

Assumption 4: I assumed all doctors had training in statistical analysis.

Treatment and the assumption: 5 weeks of radiation was an altogether terrific experience. So much so, that I produced a short educational video to address some of the basics that can cause undue anxiety: “will I be radio-active?” “are the tattoos permanent”?

Assumption 5: The little stuff isn’t important.

[Side note: The technician who ‘starred’ in the video was smart and funny and pretty. I introduced her to my nephew.]

Graduation and the assumption. I made it.

Assumption 6: Nephew and technician would be right for each other.