Today I ran into several cancer patients. Each person broke my heart, as each told me his/her story. I couldn’t help but hug a few of them. It saddens me to think that we’ve done so much in the field of medicine, but cancer is still as much of a threat now as it was in the past. So, today’s entry will be a more somber one, but it is what it is.
There were two people who stood out today. The first was a lady fighting breast cancer. She had just finished infusion chemotherapy and radiation and her doctor was moving on to oral tablets to see how she would do. He told her if her first follow up looked good, she would be on the oral meds alone for five years, which she was excited about. She was telling me how she very suddenly was diagnosed with breast cancer, and how even to this day, a part of her still wants to believe her diagnosis is a nightmare she had.
She asked me the side effects of the medication her doctor prescribed to her. She was so happy when I told her the chance of her losing her hair was about 2-6%, according to the package insert. She then showed me that what I was seeing on her hair was a wig. I never would have known if she didn’t say anything. Her wig was about the same color as my own hair. It made me wonder if she was the recipient of my donated hair from a few years ago. I have very thick, dark hair. Seeing women like her make me realize just how blessed I am to have it. Seeing her made me more determined than ever to donate it again once it is long enough.
The other person who stood out today was a favorite patient of mine. She was once of the first people I connected with when I began working at my current pharmacy. She an elderly woman who had originally decided to retire to Florida, but then had to move back to her hometown for health reasons. Last summer she had to have some basal cell carcinomas removed. Basal cell carcinomas don’t normally spread or metastasize, and are a very common form of skin cancer. The carcinomas were removed, and every time I saw her afterwards, her scar was healing beautifully. Today, you can’t tell where they made an incision last summer.
Today, she had come in for a recommendation for some cough drops. I went out into the aisles to help her, and she started telling me about her most recent visit with her physician. She had thought for about 9 months now that there was still a lump around the area where her original carcinomas were. She told him at each visit that she thought he had missed some, but he dismissed her concerns, telling her it was probably scar tissue she felt. Finally at her most recent visit, he performed a physical exam of the area and told her it seemed suspicious. After running some tests and removing the carcinoma that had been there, he determined that the margins around this carcinoma weren’t as sharp as the others because she had waited so long to have it checked out. He is sending her out of town to have it treated later this month.
She was in tears telling me this and said she was so beyond upset with her physician. I can see why, since she had asked him to check out the area before now. I gave her a hug to help calm her a bit and to help stop her tears. I assured her that the hospital they were sending her to was one of the best, and that each physician there was very qualified to do his/her job. She thanked me, as I told her to call me if she had any questions about any treatments they give her.
Talking with people like those above serve as both a reality check and a lesson in empathy. They show me just how fragile life can be and not to take anything for granted–not the head on my hair, not the skin on my body. They also show me that even though I don’t know what they are going through, I can still be the moral support and the friendly face they need that day. It’s always a good day in the pharmacy when I can step out of the realm of the robot pharmacist who checks prescriptions all day and be someone my patients can rely on and trust.