Day By Day: You meet the best people in the basementAs I write this my seven weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer is coming to an end and I am glad. It isn’t over by any means.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
As I write this my seven weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer is coming to an end and I am glad. It isn’t over by any means. What comes next are quarterly trips to the oncologist for checkups and mammograms, some medication for the next five years and some time to finally get used to the idea of being a person with cancer.
As I have mentioned I have interviewed more than two dozen people over my years at the Star-Observer about their personal experiences with this all too common and crafty disease. Fortunately most of the folks I’ve talked with have been around to wish me well on my own journey. There is great comfort in that for me and mine.
But there’s another group of folks who have come to mean just as much in a very short time.
I have had excellent medical care right from the start — from the mammogram technician at my annual checkup to the radiologist who diligently worked to find the smallest thing on my body to the MRI tech who worried that getting that small thing inside my not so small body to fit into her machine might be tricky.
I had great support from the local hospital and breast care staff who never made me feel guilty about getting treatment at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, even though I worried a little about that big impersonal monolith looming large over I-94. But when a very picky friend I trust implicitly said they were the best, I figured size didn’t always matter.
I was right. The surgery was long but flawless with precautions taken almost every 30 minutes to verify they had the right patient and the right breast. From Susan and the staff at the breast center to the gentle hands of my surgeon and all the doctors in training trailing after him, and my oncologist who pulled the very latest information on treatment for my cancer up for us on our first visit, I’ve felt I was in the right place.
But the very good people on my mind today are those folks who hang out in the basement of the U of M Medical Center Fairview in the radiation oncology department. You can’t help but become familiar with them as treatment calls for you to come in every day, five days a week for seven weeks. I figured they would all be nice and professional, but they did more.
I have to start with Rob and Tony. Both were usually on hand for the majority of my treatments which requires taking off your top clothes, putting on the ugliest hospital gown I’ve ever seen and climbing up on a table to fit under some predetermined measurements. You’re exposed but by this time, it doesn’t seem like anything more than opening your mouth for the dentist. And they always had pretty good breath.
It all has to do with the seemingly effortless way these people do their job, getting the information they need, like the wonderfully desensitizing act of repeating my birth date, all the while asking me what I did, what weekend plans did I have and even looking up the Star-Observer to read something of mine on-line.
I found out Rob and his partner have bought their first house and are excited about what to room to tackle first.
Sheila has dropped in from time to time with her ruler or to help with treatment. Her style is easy and effortless. Katie has taken over in recent days for Rob who has been assigned a new machine. She’s more of the same — friendly, kind and engaging for a tall, beautiful, leggy blond.
There’s also been James, the most boyish of the bunch, who has become recently engaged and his happiness shows. I tried to keep my “40 years married cynical stuff” to a minimum.
And there’s Tony, who has been there almost every day and who I have come to decide is exactly the guy his late mother-in-law described — “a dreamboat.” This is a man who loves his family, supports his wife’s career as a teacher and who cares about the world around him from the patients he helps off and onto to his table to the rest of us just doing the best we can on the outside.
Dr. Jiangling Yuan and her resident, Dr. Shideman do their thing as well once a week. It is a quick visit, thorough and friendly but never rushed. The nurses are always there for questions about anything from peculiar pain to what glop to apply to deal with treatment results. Maureen even gave me some valuable travel advice for a vacation to Florida that saved me $100 bucks.
And as anyone can tell you who has to go to the doctor often, the receptionists are the first line of contact. After day one, I was greeted by name, checked in before I could even swipe my card and always with a smile. And it was the same for whoever came in. In the face of something hard at the core, Stacy and Aleeta always add a soft touch.
The waiting room could be almost empty or very full, depending on the day; always with CNN news on a large flat screen.
There’s the family with the adorable toddler who has discovered the fun of the water cooler, mixing water with a stir stick with a side of saltines for tea while she and her father wait for her mom to come back from treatment.
There is the mother and daughter who look so much alike except for the wig mom wears. They don’t speak much but there’s so much concern in both their faces. There’s another woman who comes in with a medical cab driver. She makes me think of something my mother would have said — “that she looks tough” and you can’t help but wonder if she has much support in her life. There’s a sort of aging hippie couple for lack of a better description. He has a long ponytail and spends the time waiting for his wife who is being treated pouring over a laptop. He obviously keeps up. Despite being the patient, his wife is exceedingly energetic and she captured the entire waiting room’s thoughts when she announced out loud what we were all thinking. “I’m sick to death of hearing about Charlie Sheen.” Amen.
There is relief in having the treatment over — no question about it. But maybe the more important thing is the now certain knowledge, that no matter how big and impersonal a place or an organization may appear on the outside, it can be full of people who, simply by who they are and their respect for the people they connect with, do far more than just treat a sick person.