We count good moments, not years
When we don’t give in to our fears
I once went with a hunch,
It helped my patient, a bunch.
And she looks good in front of her peers.
My patient, Diane, has given me permission to use this information in my blog.
She taught my three children instrumental music; she came to me as a patient more than a decade ago.
Six years ago a cough brought her in. As with all health professionals doing their job with a woman between ten and sixty, I asked if there were any chance she was pregnant.
“No,” she said.
Sometimes I get a hunch and a long time ago I learned to trust that tingling at the back of my brain; in this case it told me not to believe her.
“Well,” I said, “Just lay back on the exam table while I check your tummy.”
I plainly felt the top of her uterus higher than her belly button, but I couldn’t find a heartbeat with the Doppler.
I pled urgency with an OB-Gyn and got her an appointment within the hour. The ultrasound showed her womb had turned into a malignancy the size of a soccer ball.
A few weeks later, she came, in her words, to a “critical decision that I make a ‘leap of faith’ in action right before surgery, because I knew in order to live I had to not be afraid to die.”
The pathology report said leiomyosarcoma, a cancer of the uterine muscle. In later years she said, “I was always a survivor from the beginning. I was born C-section at 7 mo.[ 3.5 lbs] in 1960. I had no idea how having ‘faith’, ‘letting go’ of past hurts, and learning to trust others would change my life all for the better.”
It helped that she had never been a bitter person.
I coordinated her care as she went from specialist to specialist. So rare a tumor had no chemotherapeutic experience. With a paucity of clinical evidence, I gave advice from my heart.
“The worst day of my life wasn’t when you called and told me it was in my lungs,” she said. “Not even close. I’ve had more good days since my diagnosis than I had in my entire life combined.”
The next summer Bethany and I met Diane and her husband on their way out of the movie theater. She’d been carded trying to get into an R rated movie. Her skin had the clear glow of a teenager and her hair shone in the sun. She walked with a bounce befitting a sophomore.
The spring after that she sat in the waiting room of the Cancer Center before a radiation treatment. The other cancer patients turned to her. “You’re not here for radiation,” they said, “you’re just another representative. What do you represent?”
“I represent hope,” she said.
My middle daughter fell rock climbing three years ago; in the aftermath of ICU’s and neurosurgeons and months of not knowing I learned a great deal. Diane and I have discussed these truths: Time comes to us in moments, some good, some bad, most neutral; if you let the bad moments contaminate the neutral you give them too much power and if you let the bad soil the good you’re missing the point; embracing the uncertainty of not knowing bad news makes your day better.
When I made my decision to slow down back in February I also decided to bring music back into my life and buff up my saxophone skills by doing lessons with Diane. On my last clinic day, she and her husband and my office nurse gave me a soprano sax.
Over the course of ten surgeries, seventy-nine radiation treatments, fifteen hospitalizations, and thirty-eight CTs, Diane continues to look younger and younger. She serves as a beacon of light and hope to all who know her.