Flirting with Cancer

Funny how life changes in the blink of an eye. Three weeks ago I was a bit neurotic about going to the dermatologist to check out a mole. This Friday I go for surgery…

Part I – Eating the Frog

Eating the frog!

A few years ago my thyroid blew. This meant that I was on chronic meds and had to go see the GP every 6 months to get my prescription renewed. The first time she saw my arm she freaked… “That has to go!”

I was a tad nonplussed because she’d just told me that I had to have a pap smear at the same time. Seriously – this Dr thing sucks. So I pitched up on the designated day – ready to have the mole on my arm obliterated as well as being checked out for cervical cancer.

By my GP took a second look at my arm and declared that it did not actually look so bad – and decided we should rather just keep an eye on it. I did not get away with the pap smear thing so lightly – but all was good.

This continued for a couple of years – each year she’d check out the mole and go hmmmm…. Looks okay.

This year she looked at the mole and freaked. OMG!!! When did that get so large?

Whaaaaatttt – I replied. It’s not so big. Think a few freckles joined hands – that’s all. But she persisted. It must go.

So take it out – I re-joined.

But no… it turned out that said mole was a tad too large for my GP to comfortably remove. A dermatologist was the order of the day. Or we could let her hubby loose on my arm – he’s a surgeon. But I figured that it was stupid hacking out the whole thing if it was not necessary – rather check it out first.

My GP looked at me sadly and said that their tame dermatologist dude had just died. They would have to find me somebody else. They did too. I was informed that I was really lucky- everybody else was fully booked until August but I had a date booked for the 24th April – a couple of weeks away. I smiled and nodded gratefully, muttering under my breath that I would not mind waiting until August.

So I ate the frog. Let it be known that there are other froggies that have hopped away… the mammogram, the bone density… like I said – I am not fond of this stuff. Let sleeping dogs snooze and all that.

Fast forward to the 24th April. I figured the dermatologist would refer to me to a surgeon if necessary. I was fully expecting to leave intact. I arrived at the place – breathless and a bit late because I had taken a few wrong turns – despite my lovely husband having shown me the way the previous Saturday.

The dermatologist was really awesome. Lovely, cool, calm and collected. She checked out my arm and recommended that we remove the middle section of the mark on my arm – the bit that had the dodgy looking mole. Swift and simple – she needle numbed the spot and removed it chop chop – deftly stitching it up thereafter. I was beyond impressed.

She also had fabulous art work on her walls that I, without my glasses, fondly imagined looked like a fairy tale tree. Turned out it was actually a picture of a follicle.

Fairytale tree… not!

Dr Carpenter (hahahah – my lovely husband pointed out the irony of this later) would send the bit of flesh off to be analysed and would call me if there was anything to worry about. Because there were a spate of public holidays approaching – she’d probably only get the results in just over a week. I was to have my 3 little stitches out in two weeks. If she had nothing to report I would get my results when I had them out.

D-Day arrived and I approached the day with butterflies fluttering around my tum. But no ominous calls were received, despite the fact I eyed out my phone carefully. No calls the next day. Nor the next…  Then it was weekend. On Monday I noticed that I missed a call from the dermatologists. Truly – I did not give it a second thought. They were calling to remind me about my appointment for the next day to have my stitches removed. I did not even bother to  return the call.

Shit gets real – time to face the music.

After lunch on Monday Dr Carpenter called and told me that the news was not that fabulous. A melanoma. But I should not panic or anything because we had caught it early and it was not deep. However – protocol demanded that a surgeon remove more of the said spot.

Feh! I brooded on the news for a couple of hours and then decided I needed to share. My lovely husband came dashing home. Was a bit of a blow to say the least. I had become complacent because I had not heard from Dr C in the designated time. So I assumed all was well.

Tootled off the following day to get my stitches out.. Turned out the lady who was supposed to do this task was not at work that day and Dr C herself took them out. Painless! She exclaimed that the scar she had given me was negligible… but sadly that was not going to last. She gave me letters for my GP and the potential surgeon.

I admit to procrastinating on the way to deliver those letters.

A few hours later my GP called me back – commiserating on the shitty outcome. We agreed that she would get her receptionist to make an appointment with her husband, the surgeon for me. But only after the 10th – we had a fancy awards ceremony for Chris on that day. I needed to be whole.  Also mentioned in passing that the dermatologist had said it would not be a big deal – could probably be done with local anaesthetic.

My GP laughed uproariously. No, probably not, she said. There are lymph nodes involved and centimetres that need to be removed.

My spirits plummeted.

Said appointment was duly made for the 11th May at 09h30.  We got there – a lot of minutes early. I filled out the form. Wrongly.

Chris gently removed the clipboard from my shaking hands and filled it out correctly.

The receptionist or whatever you call that person was jabbering on the phone. She kept saying “My doctor this, my doctor that…”

I admit – my evil twin sister emerged and I mimicked her irritating voice saying “My doctor, my doctor… I’ve also got a doctor… but he’s not a proper doctor.”

Chris cringed. I waited expectantly for a laugh… nothing. Not a peep. Stony silence. Ooopsie.

So right then and there I shot my own self in the foot. (Aaahhhhh – say those of you who might have read my Facebook posts from the past two days. No wonder her op got so screwed up! Never mess with the receptionist.)

The Dr emerged and ushered me into his room.

What can I do for you? he politely inquired? I was completely thrown. WTF? He was supposed to have gotten all the grizzly details from my GP – his very own wife. They had told me they’d already given them to him…

So I explained. Feeling like a bit of a tit – because said dodgy spot had now been removed, the stitches had healed really well and it just looked like a bit as though I’d scratched myself.

He eyed the mark out suspiciously. When did all this happen? Two and a half weeks ago was my reply.

Hmmm… he needed to see the histology report. He excused himself and went out of his room. My heart pounded a bit more.

He came back and did all the doctory thing like… tapping my tum (WTF?), listening to my innards, checking that I could swallow.

Then explained patiently how the whole thing worked. He even drew me a picture. It was like an ellipse – if the spot was so big – then 2cm would removed – but obviously they cannot close up a circle without a skin graft – so for every 2cm width – they need to cut 3 x that in length so they could yank it all together (my words- not his). But because he had not seen the histology report he did not know if it would be 2cm or 4cm… I told him that it was early stage, but he just stared at me. He’d wait and see.

That dastardly evil twin kept rearing her head and I cracked one joke after the other… about old arms… and yay for me – I was finally going to sample some nuclear medicine after working at iThemba LABS all those years…

Turns out the man has no sense of humour. Not a shred. Not a blip. I did not raise a single lip curl. Clearly he and his receptionist get on well.

He told me he operated Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Let’s do it, I replied and chose the first available day.

His lovely lady handed me a form – in Afrikaans nogal – with all the descriptions and codes that we needed to go and pre-book into hospital for the following week. She had the last laugh because she gave us a wrong code which caused havoc and much to-ing and fro-ing.

Eventually I emailed her and got a terse little very unprofessional one-liner back in response.

“0311 should not be used.”

Chris later told me that she took a private phone call when she was supposed to be finding out what happened to the histology report. He was sitting listening and getting more and more pissed off with the length of time she took to get around to the simple little task of providing “my doctor” with the information he should have had before I ever saw him. Not sure what went down there but I sure as hell will ask my GP.

The date was set for the following Wednesday (16th May). In addition to having my arm excavated, I would need to have the lymph nodes investigated – hence the nuclear meds – to check that the cancer has not relocated itself to other parts of my skanky bod!

The day before the op at 10h49 I get an SMS from the anaesthetic dudes which went like this… :

“Ur anaesthetics tomorrow code 1439×60 min(avg time)= R3981.06. Arrange with your m/aid for PMB auth Celliersstr. Narkose Dienste.”

I dutifully emailed this info off to the medical aid. Also tried to call but after waiting for 5 minutes (no really) I got chucked off the system each time.

Then I get a call from the lovely Dr’s receptionist – Due to “unforeseen circumstances” the operation needs to be postponed to Friday.

I freaked. I want to get this over with. ASAP! There was no apology, no niceness, no freaking eff all. Just would this work for me? I asked what bloody choice did I have? Will this work for me? She repeated with an edge to her voice.

Inquired what needed to be done to sort this out with the medical aid – she said she’d do it for me. Like it was a huge favour!

A few minutes later I get an email from the medical aid saying…

Thank you for the email. We kindly require the following clinical information regarding the lesions:

  • Size of the lesions, how long have they been there, are they changing in colour, texture or size, are they painful/sensitive, are they bleeding, which area of the body are lesions on.

Upon receipt of this information the request for authorisation will be referred to our medical advisor for review.

I zapped off a scathing letter – including some photos saying I hoped the medical adviser found that the lesion looked suitably cancerous, and that I was not in the habit of having myself chopped up for fun. Really – I was beyond pissed off. Copied Chris and he phoned to commiserate.

Still utterly bedonered the day drew to a close with nothing really resolved – except for the fact that the operation had been moved to Friday and I would be lumped with another freaking 3 nights of even less sleep than usual.

The next morning the lady from the medical aid phoned – turns out she thought this anaesthetist cost was going to be x 60 instead of figuring out it was the total cost for 60 minutes and she had called the Dr. to find out what exactly what procedures they were going to do.

The stupid blah blah fishpaste receptionist at the Dr said she did not know what they were talking about and instead of involving me in the conversation – the whole operation got postponed from Wednesday to Friday.

I know this does not seem a very long delay in the great scheme of things- but it’s shit enough finding out that you have a melanoma (even if it is an early stage one) and knowing that you have to have an operation – whereby your arm is going to undergo another cut that is going to take weeks to heal again… as well as biopsies on lymph glands to check that it has not spread without being jerked around by a shitty unhelpful receptionist.

She could have avoided the whole delay.

Note to self… NEVER EVER rip off a silly receptionist again.

Note to all receptionists… Don’t fuck with a person who writes.

Finish the Saga

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