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On Clean Bills, Patients and Winning

Michele Weldon | November 23, 2009

“I am not God,” Dr. Dowlat said as I pulled the green print open-fronted gown closed. “But you will be fine.”

Today was my semi-annual appointment with the breast surgeon who excised my cancer and oversaw my recovery beginning three years ago. He is kind, reassuring and most importantly, a seasoned surgeon. I trust him with my life. Because he saved it.

His modest proclamation that he was not infallible arrived as an antidote to my question about unquenchable anxiety.

“I am not sure this is your area, but what do you suggest I do to stop feeling as if I am going to die before every appointment?” I asked.

“Let me look at your pathology reports,” he responded.

As he went back to the first pages of my now thick manilla folder, he underlined some lines and explained them to me. Though my cancer was invasive, I responded well to surgery and brachytherapy, Tamoxifen and now Femara. That is when he said he was not God. And that was when I could exhale.

Just a few days earlier on Thursday I saw the radiologist, Dr. Joan Werber, whose breast screening office is across the hall from Dr. Dowlat’s. She does my semi-annual mammograms. Dr. Dowlat does the semi-annual ultrasounds and exams. When you have cancer and more importantly, good insurance, you get the double dose of screenings.

My sister Madeleine met me at Dr. Werber’s office because I was nervous. A wreck is more like it. She came right from court in a cab. We talked in the waiting room, with two other women in front-closing gowns reading home design magazines and People. After my mammogram and my bone density tests, I dressed and Madeleine met me in Dr. Werber’s office. Everything was normal. Everything was fine. I could come back in a year, not just six months.

“No sense you getting fried,” Dr. Werber said.

I didn’t feel sick when she found the cancer in October 2006. And I don’t feel sick now. I do feel lucky most every day. But I have a gnawing sense of doom twice a year that I will be let in on the secret that something fatal and insidious has been quietly growing inside of me, in spite of all my ambitious plans.

I guess this patient needs to be more patient. Right.

They say bad news comes in threes; maybe that is deaths, but I wonder if good news has a three-count ceiling. The good news is I am fine. More good news is Colin won his wrestle-off Saturday morning. He will be on varsity this year, his dream.

Still more good news is my classes are going very well and the quarter is winding down. It has been a really great quarter, all my students are invested and engaged, and class is so enjoyable, I started a Facebook group. “B4 FF” because our three-hour classes are held in Fisk Hall Room B4. The FF, well, you should know what FF means.

All the boys are fine and everyone will be home at Thanksgiving. Lew is good. That’s more than three. I really hope there isn’t a limit and I am overdrawn.

I have to remember to just breathe. And replay Dr. Dowlat’s reassurance in my head.

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Comments (3)
  1. I was very moved by this, Michele. We all experience anxiety, but I don’t think any of us who haven’t battled cancer can understand the depths of your angst. Still, you remain so positive and thankful of all that you do have! I think you’re a great role model for cancer survivors. You’ve fought off that bastard called cancer. You’re a winner.

  2. Michele, three of my close friends here in Chicago are currently battling breast cancer. And my cousin, an anesthesiologist in Atlanta, had her radical a couple of years ago. All of you are brave women.

    Penny Lockhart (I’m Madeleine’s friend).

  3. Michele, I admire your courage in battling your cancer. My 35 year old cousin (who has two young boys, maybe future wrestlers) just got diagnosed last week. I will tell her about your website and hope that she too will face her recovery with courage and optimism.

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