Doctors, Doctors Everywhere and... Well, That's Just Cancer

Last updated: August 2020

The other day, I tried to add up all the doctors I’ve seen since I started my cancer journey and I had to stop when I started needing to use x105 to express the number. Just going off the number of doctors who I got billed for seeing alone, I had to create a seven-page excel spreadsheet and when I got done I realized I had forgotten to add in an entire month in the hospital. It was at that point I gave up because I was starting to worry if I continued I’d get sucked into the computer like Jumanji and have to talk my way into a discharge from a video-game hospital before I ran out of lives. The point is, doctors add up quickly when you have cancer, and before you even get halfway their names start to blur and fade away.

I'm no stranger to doctors

Why am I even thinking about this? Well, the other day, I was speaking with a friend who said they were going to head to the doctor because they had a “small pain” in their arm. Of course, out loud, I said, “sure, sure, that sounds like a safe idea.” My inside brain, though, was more like, “small pain? SMALL PAIN?? My spleen fell out of my butt the other day and I just pushed it back in and went about my day!” Of course, you can’t say that because, well, it’s never right to belittle someone else’s pain and we all know that but it really got me thinking to just how normal it becomes for those of us with cancer to have doctors in our lives. Lots of them.

Now, trust me, I am no stranger to doctors. As someone who has lived with chronic illness for more than 30 years, I have seen more doctors than a hypochondriac who licked a public toilet. Cancer, however, takes it to a new level. Lymphoma was like the turbo booster of doctor-seeing. Sorry, there’s really not a better word for that, but the point is that I had no idea how many doctors could be seen in such a short amount of time until I spent three months in the hospital being diagnosed. Not counting the randos and one-off docs, I was shifted to no less than four different departments on my journey to treatment.

"Do you have a history of cancer in your family?"

First, it started out with the emergency department. Now, as I said, I am no stranger to doctors and I don’t go unless I’m literally dying, which it turns out I literally was (but we didn’t know that at the time). After a week of listening to a “whoosh” sound in my ears that we later found out was my blood at dangerously low levels I finally and begrudgingly admitted to my family I think it was time to drop in at the ER and see what was up.

Immediately they determined that I was missing a shipload (that’s a medical term) of blood and my iron levels were lower than a bronze-age forge (that’s a history joke). The determined cause? An ulcer, so then I was shipped off to the gastroenterology department. After two attempts at discharge and about eight hundred CAT scans later, two other doctors appeared and started asking questions like, “do you have a history of cancer in your family?” Since I’m a pretty observant guy I thought, “well that’s an odd subject to suddenly ask about,” and I wasn’t surprised when they said they had seen “a shadow” on my images.

Off I went to a second hospital and a surgeon’s service who was going to do a Whipple procedure. Even though that sounds like a cute old man who squeezed the Charmin, in reality, it’s an extremely dangerous and invasive surgery where they re-arrange your indoor plumbing and cut out the cancerous parts. Long story short, it turned out I wasn’t in need of surgery because I had active cancer and was now being transferred to the oncology service. It took another three doctors and six weeks to determine exactly what kind of lymphoma I had, but that’s for another blog.

There were doctors I didn't know I had seen

My point in recounting all of this is to show just how many different doctors and departments in two hospitals I was shuffled through in only ninety short days. I was prodded and felt by so many doctors that you’d have thought I had joined a dating service called Doctors Only. When I looked at the bills from that time period I realized that there were doctors I had never heard of, never seen, and never even knew I needed (when did I see a fertility doctor?) who somehow spent time with me and charged me for said time. So many doctors, I just couldn’t believe how many.

Of course, now, talking with other cancer patients I realize it’s more or less par for the course and nothing to be shocked about. It seems like cancer is a word that really just means, “see as many physicians as possible, as fast as possible.” (I think it comes from ancient Saxon). So for anyone reading this who can’t keep the docs straight, don’t worry, it’s normal and, maybe, just maybe, the more you see the better chance you have of beating your cancer. Talk soon.

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