Kindness and brutal honesty at the Cancer Assessment Centre

Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.
 

I soon discovered that, "You have highly suspicious nodules”, also means, “You will have many appointments!”

"Don’t make any travel plans for the next 3 – 6 months," said my GP as he put my name into The System. The phone began to ring - MRI, PET scan, Nuclear Medicine, biopsy - to a total of ten schedules for scans, biopsies and doctors. My calendar became peppered with appointments.

One appointment was to see a Respiratory Specialist at the Cancer Assessment Centre at the General Campus of the Ottawa Hospital. I often walk or bike past the hospital, and have visited patients from time-to-time. But it has been nearly 22 years since I was a patient there, with a broken leg. Since then, I have grown to have confidence in my health. But, there I was, on the elevator, approaching the Cancer Assessment Centre.

I was trying to be very casual and nonchalant, pretending that I was going for a coffee at Bridgehead. After all, I didn’t really have cancer; I only had a ‘suspicion’, and Denial was a very comfortable place to be! But when I exited the elevator and saw the Big Lettering, CANCER ASSESSMENT CENTRE, some confidence slipped and my nonchalant attitude wobbled.

It was only one step to go through the threshold of the Centre, and it took only one second. But, looking back, I realize that it really was the first emotional step towards acceptance. The receptionists were warm and pleasant, possibly ‘welcoming’, if it makes any sense to be welcomed to the Cancer Centre. Even the waiting room was friendly, with comfortable furniture and the sun streaming through big bright windows. The available reading material was magazines about Cruises; ironic, it seemed, seeing as I had been inquiring about canceling trips. The atmosphere lulled me into a sense of well-being.

Finally I was called in to meet with my doctor. I was relaxed when he gently chatted about my symptoms and asked how the suspicious nodules were found. But when he said that he had read the CT report, and thought that the nodules were probably cancer, rather than possibly, my confidence deflated and tears of disbelief prickled behind my eyelids. Quickly he mentioned that the treatment could be the removal of my lung! I was absolutely stunned, and sobbed, “You must be kidding me!” He assured me that there are lots of people walking around with one lung. Perhaps there are, but I had never heard of that and I didn’t want to be one of them!
During this kind but brutally honest conversation, I tumbled from my confident and comfortable happy place to facing the medical facts of a very serious reality. With lightning speed, my confidence had been deflated and my nonchalance dismissed. I was left hollow and empty.

Over the next few days, I took time to digest and process this word, ‘probable’ and to fight through the emotional upheaval. Good-bye confidence. Hello Cancer! But coming to live with Acceptance?!?! Well, that is still an on-going process, and I have to be disciplined and vigilant to try to maintain calm acceptance. My daily inner dialogue now goes something like this:

Really???After all these years of non-smoking, healthy living???
Yes. You probably have lung cancer.
No!!!
Yes. DEAL WITH IT!

Peggy has her own photoblog, the F-stops here, where she posts a photograph every day.

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