Monday, May 4, 2009


You only get just one time around,
You only get one shot at this,
One chance,
To find out,
The one thing that you don't want to miss,
One day when it's all said and done
I hope you see that it was enough,
This one ride,
One try,
One life,
To love.

"One Life to Love" by 33 Miles

My eyes opened, blinked a couple of times to try and re-focus the blurry image, and looked around barely moving my head…hmmm, ok I guess I'm in the post-op recovery area. "Man! My lips are so dry I could drink an ocean!" I thought. Just then a nurse noticed me moving and came towards me; she confirmed what I suspected, I was in the recovery area and the biopsy went fine… "Can I have some ice chips please?" I asked knowing that water is not allowed. After popping a few of the delicious ice chips in my mouth I drifted back into sleep (or more like being half unconscious). Not long after, I felt my hospital bed being wheeled upstairs to the oncology floor where I was to remain a resident for a few more days.

Things had moved quite fast once I had arrived to Arizona on Saturday. Since it was the weekend, I had to wait until Monday morning to call and try to get an appointment. I was lucky enough that one of the renowned cancer treatment centers was located in the phoenix area (I will refer to it as MC)-I decided after I did a lot of research on the web that this is where I should go, after all it was world famous on its cancer research for a reason! I was so glad that things worked smoothly for me. When I called MC Monday and asked for an appointment as soon as possible, the lady told me that she may be able to schedule me in for next week…next week?! Sheesh I cannot wait that long knowing there is a tumor roaming around in my body-well it wasn't really roaming thank God; it was just sitting there chilling and being rowdy sometimes but still! So I begged the lady ever so nicely to please try to find something for me that same day or the next day if possible. I explained to her about the mass and the thrombus and how urgent it was that I see someone pronto, but I did not know exactly who to see or where to start. She put me on hold. Dum dum da dum doo da…music playing…I hate it when they play music while putting people on hold, because you focus on the music and forget how much time has passed. Anyhow, phone lady comes back and tells me she scheduled me in to see a general Internal Medicine doctor who will then refer me to the appropriate doctor/department. Halleluiah for small miracles like getting same-day appointments when your life depends on it!

I made it to MC that afternoon with my sister not knowing what to expect or how things were going to turn out. The first good sign was the building itself. It was so beautiful and clean and airy that I did not feel like I was in a clinic. Second positive sign was the doctor herself whom I was scheduled to see (Dr. #1). Dr. #1 was so nice and understanding, and her physical exam was so thorough-due in part to the fact that she found out I was a 3rd year medical student, and I would notice if she just put the stethoscope on my lungs and moved it before I even took a breath…so she actually listened to my lungs! (Ok it could also be because she is an excellent doctor who is working at an exceptional clinic, but she was going to refer me anyways and having been introduced to the clinical world myself and seen how doctors work the first reason for her thoroughness made more sense).

I ended up being admitted to the MC hospital that same day. Dr. #1 thought it would be easier and faster to run all the necessary tests and see all the appropriate doctors if I was inpatient. The hospital was in a different location, and I was stunned even more when I saw the hospital building. I thought the clinic was nice, ha! The hospital felt like a 5-star hotel; they even had a piano in the lobby where a volunteer was playing some sweet music. Ok, I suppose this qualifies as good sign #3. So far so good…that is until all the poking, probing, and scanning came along…oh yeah and the ever-so-fashionable hospital gown! What is it with hospitals and trying to force patients out of all their dignity with the stupid open-back gowns? Well, I was a freaking med student and as fragile as I was at that moment, I was determined to keep some of my dignity however hard that may be. So I asked for a second gown which I wore with the opening to the front that way covering up my dignity, and I brought my scrub pants from home to wear under the gown!

Being the good medical student that I was, I had typed a history form of myself and printed out several copies to give to every doctor, resident, student, PA, nurse, or janitor who came in to question and examine me (the history for non-medical people is when the doctors ask you all these questions about your illness, your past illnesses, your social life, your ancestors illnesses etc. trust me they do that for a reason other than to annoy you!) well, I did that for two reasons: 1) it gave me something to do besides driving myself crazy with thinking during the long flight home, and 2) I really did not want to be annoyed and repeat the same story and answer the same questions over a 100 times. I wrote down everything I could think of, including any symptom I had experienced in the past few months whether imagined or real (that was for the real doctors to figure out.) I was so happy I had written that history, it saved me a lot of talking sometimes, and I got a few impressed looks and comments from some of the medical people (it was about time too for someone to tell me something positive about my medical skills after being stomped on as a med student for the past few months!)

I had such a difficult time internally accepting that I was on the other side of it-now I was the patient. Giving up control, and trying to become a cooperative patient who did not question every single thing the doctors said (whether out loud or inside my head) was a really hard task. As the months passed by though, I realized that sometimes it is easier to just be a patient. Sometimes I even hated that I knew so much, and I could search scientific medical articles and read them in the blink of an eye. I got some un-needed stress as I read about all the horrible side-effects, complications, and mistakes that could happen. This is one situation where sometimes it helps to be ignorant or at least not know so much. But on the other hand, my medical background helped me tremendously at other times (like that time when I was in the hospital and the nurse kept bringing me medicines to take that my doctor had already stopped, but they were still on my chart. I had to tell her that I'm not on those meds anymore, so she would smile, apologize and go double check!)

Anyways, I had a bone marrow biopsy and a thoracoscopy (took a sample from the mediastinal mass to analyze in lab and determine what the mass was definitively) done on Wednesday. Between the time I had checked into the hospital Monday afternoon and the biopsy on Wednesday, I had undergone numerous other tests and was seen by multiple doctors. Most of the other tests came back negative (meaning normal), which was especially comforting when it came to the Brain MRI and the Echocardiogram they had ordered. YES! At least my heart and brain were normal and functioning like they're supposed to-I have got to celebrate the little victories like these when my world seems to be collapsing around me!

That same day, on Wednesday Nov. 26th, 2008, the biopsy results confirmed what the doctors had primarily suspected. I definitely had Hodgkin's Lymphoma; no doubt about it now after the pathology report showed that the mass sample contained Reed-Sternberg cells (which are THE cells that identify Hodgkin's.) These cells are the ugliest looking little monsters with two huge eyes that stare back at you as if mocking you and telling you "I've invaded your body, now what can you do about it?!"

I was told that my first chemo session would be the very next day! Oh joy! Ok seriously, things were not just moving fast, things were zooming past my eyes at the speed of light making it hard for my brain to digest and absorb all these new unwelcomed facts. I mean less than a week ago my biggest worry was how to impress my attending, now I'm getting chemotherapy?!!! Whoa! Actually in a way I realize how lucky I am that I was diagnosed with cancer this quickly, because most cancer patients spend months going from doctor to doctor with their symptoms before they get diagnosed. So, at least I did not have to go through that, but still I needed at least a two-week notice to be able to process all of this. Nope, no such luck!

Chemo, here comes Nancy-your newest victim…

I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.
John 16:33

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