Until four months ago, I never imagined I would hear my name and the noun cancer in the same sentence.
I won’t be melodramatic, but the numbing sound of those words from Dr. Monica Bertolo back in June forced me to think more deeply than I normally do. That’s not saying much, of course.
She is a dermatologist, specializing in skin disorders. Her team operates a very efficient office on Welland Avenue in St. Catharines.
I will attempt to trace my recent cancer pathway. My mind tends to wander and I tend to ramble when expressing my ideas. I promise not to use big words, or get overly sentimental.
As of this week, my four-month journey through the Canadian medical system is over, and by the grace of God I have emerged victorious.
Not only have I been declared a winner, but I am able to give thanks to so many people who have been my teammates and coaches.
Melanoma is one of the words tossed around in the world of oncology. Along the way, I lightheartedly told the medical professionals that I wished they would eliminate the words positive and negative from their vocabularies.
When reporting test results, positive is bad news and negative is good news. Confused? And this comes at a time in life when confusion and miscommunication are not welcome, causing angst and unnecessary worry.
Why can’t they use the phrases “good news” and “bad news” instead?
Fast-forward through four months to Monday of this week, and my 12:45 p.m. appointment with Dr. Linda Lee at the Walker Family Cancer Centre at the St. Catharines General Hospital.
I made notes of many names, people who were on my team for the day. Not just the big shots, the medical doctors around whom the system efficiently revolves.
Two volunteers in the main entrance area and then to the “take a number” general registration number giver. Sort of like an old-fashioned bake shop, but now electronic and on a screen.
Twenty minutes later my number appeared and I headed up to the second floor, where the action gets underway.
Wendy is the enthusiastic and slightly boisterous processor, who handed me the four-page personal medical history form. My penmanship has always been suspect, but she was unfazed when I returned to form to her.
She has been doing this for 27 years and still loves her job. Having just returned from her lunch break, she said, “Give me a few minutes to retrain myself.”
Talk about detailed. Why did they want to know what size skate I wore, or what number I wore in 1967 playing defence for the Sudbury Wolves?
Of course, I’m joking, but the form asked some very obscure questions about my medical background. How much do you know about your mother and father’s medical life story?
Then into room 20 to wait for the oncology professionals. First came Nicole, a young woman in her late 20s, who had studied at Brock, Mohawk, McMaster.
She reviewed my completed questionnaire. Bright, enthusiastic, empathetic, busy and seemingly interested in my individual cancer journey.
Then Dr. David Nguyen, who insisted that I call him “David.”
This seemed awkward, so I stuck with his family name.
From St. Paul’s High School in Niagara Falls, then McMaster and U of T, he is in his 11th year of post-secondary education, with at least one year to go. He is bright, enthusiastic and has the ability to make me feel like I was the centre of his world for 10 or 15 minutes.
As he finished explaining the TNM Pathological Staging Overview, he seemed confident I was Stage 1A, and that Dr. Jeffrey Cranford’s sentinel lymph node biopsy surgery, including the radioactive tracer dye, had provided enough information to offer an accurate conclusion.
Perhaps because I was still paying attention, he explained that the excisional lymph node biopsy had confirmed Dr. Cranford’s thinking.
The door to room 20 burst open and in came Dr. Lee, the headliner of this oncological revue. On time, effervescent, a clear communicator, busy but not rushed, and with the ability to make me feel really, really important.
Dr. Lee explained the situation and advised me that the news was “all good news.” Not negative. Good news.
I thanked her for speaking to me in my language. My linguistic request was apparently noted on my chart.
I went downstairs for a hot chocolate and carrot muffin at Tim Hortons and bought the elderly man sitting next to me a coffee and almond bran muffin.
Life was good and I returned to NOTL without a big albatross sitting on my shoulders.
Not only have I been declared a winner, but I am able to give thanks to so many people who have been my teammates and coaches along this journey.
We are so fortunate to live in Canada … in 2023.