Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The future is no longer a given.

Each time its uncertainty is acknowledged,

my heart speeds up, my breathing rhythm stutters, I gasp for air.

Sudden attacks of panic.

~from One-Hundred Days by: David Biro

Walking through the doors of MDA center was like being at a very busy airport. People were swarming into and out of the building in ridiculous numbers. Outside the doors, they had at least 10 valet attendants parking the cars that lined up the curb. Once inside, we were greeted by a grand lobby with marble floors. Directly in front of us was an information desk, while to the left was a café with a sitting area, as well as, of course, a Starbucks concession. There were people from all nationalities and countries, and we heard so many different languages. We asked for directions to the Lymphoma Center floor-we were told to take elevators B up to the 7th floor-but only elevators B will lead there; taking any other letter of the alphabet will only get us lost in the maze of this place.

Me and sister followed the signs and made our way to elevator B and up to the 7th floor we went. We stepped into the Lymphoma Center lobby and soon we made our way to two seats to wait our appointment with Dr. Wizmaster-the Lymphoma specialist. Normally, sitting in Hematology/Oncology waiting rooms, I would be trying to dodge the stares of patients much older than I, who would probably be wondering why such a young person was bald and sitting amongst them, but not this time; I did not feel out of place here. Because this was specifically a Lymphoma Center and not just a general all-inclusive hematology/oncology department there were a number of young-adult patients in the waiting area with me. Lymphoma sadly afflicts a big number of young-adults under 40 years old. My sister and I were eventually called back to a nondescript patient room. First, a sweet young Physician’s Assistant (PA) came into the room. She talked with us and examined me. She told us she would be back momentarily with Dr. Wizmaster.

His arrogance entered the room ahead of him, Dr. Wizmaster-an expert in the Lymphoma field with 30+ years of experience- introduced himself. He first went through his CV verbally with us, just in case we had any doubt who we were addressing. I think I got a chance to ask one question and then for the next 50 minutes sis and I were bombarded with facts and statistics about every study and research done on NHL and specifically DLBCL. I told myself this was great, after all I am a scientist; I came here to hear the facts about the research not to be patted on the shoulder and told “everything will be all right Nancy.” Still though, I searched Dr. Wizmaster’s face and voice for a hint of hope or optimism about my case and…….NOTHING! He sounded like he was talking to someone who had already died. He was gracious enough though at the end to say, “you have 10 min. left of your one hour appointment, do you have any questions?” and then he shut up long enough for me to ask one.

I asked: “my PET scan showed that I’m in remission after the last salvage chemo, do you think I need more rounds of chemotherapy before the stem cell transplant (SCT)? Why do I have to go through the SCT transplant? Maybe I won’t relapse.”

Dr. Wizmaster leaned forward in his stool and looked me straight in the eyes with his empty expression and said, “That is very uncommon. I find it hard to believe that you are in remission after only 3 salvage chemotherapies, and if you are indeed then YOU ARE VERY LUCKY.” He then continued, “You do realize how aggressive DLBCL is? It is one of the WORST types of NHL in terms of aggressiveness and how quickly it progresses. In fact, I think you might need an allogeneic transplant (donor cells) not an autologous one (my own cells).”

At that, the little flickering light of hope in my brain went out. It was as if Dr. Wizmaster took all his research papers with their figures and statistics and hung them over every window of my brain blocking any light from seeping in and creating complete darkness in my small sad brain!

At the end of our appointment I asked them to try and get me an appointment to speak with a SCT doctor. We still had 2 more days in Houston, and I really needed to get the opinion of a transplant specialist, especially since at MC I was told I need an autologous SCT. Dr. Wizmaster said he cannot speak for the Bone Marrow Transplant specialists on whether they would agree that I needed an allogeneic transplant. We were told it would be very difficult to get us in to see someone since it was very last minute but they would try.

Sis and I left MDA that afternoon and I realized once back in the hotel how badly Dr. wizmaster had gotten to me. I was feeling depressed, even though I was joking about it with Sister and laughing about how ridiculous Dr. Wizmaster was. I was thinking about death and dying more than I liked, which is why I really wanted to get that other appointment in hopes that the SCT specialist doctor will restore at least a pea-sized piece of hope to my mind.

The next day we waited all day to hear back from MDA about the appointment but nobody called. I finally called MDA in the evening around 8pm, and I was told I had appointment the next morning with Dr. Albert-the Bone Marrow Transplant specialist.

Dr. Albert was a young-looking handsome hematologist, probably in his late 30s or early 40s. His demeanor and attitude made up for my bad day with Dr. Wizmaster. He was very intelligent and informative but yet also encouraging. He did confirm that I absolutely needed the SCT because my risk of relapse would be very high without it. However, he agreed with MC and Dr. Scotty that at this time I needed the autologous SCT.

Dr. Albert told me that I was the 3rd medical student he had seen this year alone who was going to have a Stem Cell Transplant.

Dr. Albert: “I don’t know what it is, it’s weird.”

I replied only half-jokingly: “I do, it is medical school. It gives you cancer.”

Dr. Albert: “well who knows? We still don’t know the exact role of stress in cancer.”

So there you have it folks, the cause of my cancer is >>>>> MEDICAL SCHOOL!!!

Sis and I made our way back to Arizona, and the preparation for my autologous stem cell transplant was under way…

And He said to her "Daughter, your faith has made you well;

go in peace and be healed of your affliction

Mark 5:34