Denise Day Spencer

March 24, 2006

Like the night my house was burning (part two)

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 5:00 am

This is part two of an adventure being posted in several installments. Have you read part one? If not, see below. If so, read on.

At last the big day came–my consultation at the Comprehensive Breast Care Center. Actually, let’s back up to the night before. I’d been trying to be upbeat, hopeful. I liked that word: “comprehensive.” It suggested that they dealt with all sorts of conditions, not just cancer.

The night before we were to leave–right before we went to bed, in fact–Michael decided he’d better find the U.K. Medical Center web site so we could locate a map, see where to park, etc. “Oh, here it is,” he said cheerily. “It’s part of the Markey Cancer Center.” The Markey Cancer Center? Wait just a minute. The radiologist at the local hospital had said it looked like a benign tumor. My nurse practitioner said she was just sending me to U.K. so we could be absolutely sure. What weren’t they telling me? For some reason, I found it very difficult to fall asleep that night.

Perhaps at this juncture I should make a confession of sorts. I am, by profession, a registered nurse. But I haven’t practiced nursing for 14 years, and when I did it was overwhelmingly in non-medical/surgical areas: nursing administration, nursing education, adolescent psych., and (my favorite) rehab. nursing. So I’ve never considered myself to be much of a nurse, and whatever knowledge and skills I used to have are now hopelessly out of date. But there’s still something about it that makes me feel uncomfortable when the roles are reversed and I’m the patient. I guess that’s just the way of it.

Now did you notice the word “consultation” three paragraphs above? I was supposed to take all of my radiology films to the CBCC and let their radiologist look at them, then render his/her opinion. I imagined being ushered into a room where the good doctor would put the pictures up so we could look at them together. Then he/she would give a diagnosis, or perhaps order more tests to be done another day.

So when they called me back to a room with several dressing areas, bade me undress from the waist up and don a gown that tied in the front, I was alarmed. What was going on? I was just supposed to talk to somebody, for crying out loud! Did they have me mixed up with some other patient? What were they going to do to me? Yet I found myself suddenly mute, docile, unable to ask even one question. I did as I was told and took a seat in the waiting room with several other ladies wearing their little gowns tied in the front and waiting their turns for…for what?

I sat away from the others. My gown was too big for me and kept gapping open in the front, even with it tied. I felt miles away from Michael, who was out in the main waiting room. Was he wondering where I was and what they were doing to me? I tried to look at a magazine and appear nonchalant, but the words kept blurring on the page as I fought back the tears. Besides, it was hard to balance the magazine with one hand and clutch my gown together with the other. I felt very small, and very afraid.

So this was what it was like to be a patient. Gee. When they taught us in school that patients are fearful when they don’t know what’s going on and they feel out of control, they weren’t kidding.

“Out of control.” There was that theme again. Wasn’t I supposed to be giving up control for Lent? So far, so good.

It wasn’t long before I learned the real meaning of the “comprehensive” in “Comprehensive Breast Care Center.” A radiology technician called me out into a smaller room to ask me some questions. Then she promised me, “You will talk to a doctor today. You’ll know something today.” I nearly cried, and could have hugged her. In a short while they had done a mammogram and evaluated that, followed by an ultrasound–done by the radiologist herself, no less. The same story: “I think it’s a benign fibroadenoma, but I’m going to refer you to one of our surgeons so we can be sure.”

So I again waited with the others. It was easy to learn from the conversation in the room that most of them were cancer survivors. One of them said, “It’s always worse when it comes back the second time.” Another piped up, “Now let’s not have all this gloom and doom! You need to have a positive outlook.” Did she cut her companion off because she knew there might be someone in the room who was awaiting a diagnosis? Someone like me? I wanted to find a nurse and ask, “Is there another waiting room where I can sit? A waiting room for people who don’t have cancer?” I thought about all that these courageous women had been through and I felt guilty for wanting to shut them up…yet I was praying all the while that I wouldn’t become one of them.

At last it was my turn to see the surgeon. A male surgeon, who no doubt would abandon all sentiment in order to do whatever was necessary to save my life. The eyes peering over wire-rimmed glasses were kind as he shook my hand. The Good Surgeon explained my options and patiently answered my questions, as if he had all the time in the world just for me. He gave the same provisional diagnosis: fibroadenoma. We agreed on an excision biopsy, to be done the next week.

When they finally said I could dress and leave, I bolted out of there so fast that I forgot to write a check for my co-pay. (Don’t worry; I made Michael drive me back later so I could settle up.) I could hardly talk to Michael on the way home. Though I now had three doctors telling me it was surely benign, all I could think was, “We still don’t know.” Somehow just being in the cancer center with all those cancer patients made me feel as if I had the disease, even if I didn’t. It wasn’t until we’d driven for over an hour that I felt like I could breathe freely again.

In looking back at that day, I’ve wondered why I wasn’t overjoyed that I’d basically been given a wonderful report. Why I didn’t skip out of the building saying, “Yes! They don’t think I have cancer!” I wasn’t trying to be overly pessimistic or overly optimistic, but simply realistic. I knew that the fact that friends and family had been praying for me was no guarantee that I would be spared. (Pastor John Piper had recently undergone surgery for prostate cancer, for goodness’ sake!)

I worshipped the God of Job, the God who asks, “Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?” (Job 38:17) I have learned to not try to predict what He will do to bring about His glory. I remember the next couple of days as a time of quiet hope…and waiting to see what His plans for me might be. (to be continued)



  1. […] My House Was Burning Part 1 Like My House Was Burning Part 2 Link to this entry| […]

    Pingback by » Blog Archive » Like My House Was Burning by Denise Day Spencer — March 25, 2006 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

  2. Your story is extremely touching to me. My sister died from cancer at 52 about 8 years ago. It was seeing her, a Christian, going through her leaving her husband and 3 boys age 24, 17, 20 with such faith that God would see her through that moved me from a position of athiesm into an allowance that God could be real. Your writings bring tears and memories of those rich times. She told me before she died that her 3 years of cancer were the best years of her life. Largely as a result of her death I am a believer in the God of the uUniverse today. Praise God. Thanks for your honesty about all the negative and scary stuff.

    Comment by Paul — March 26, 2006 @ 5:20 am | Reply

  3. ” I wasn’t trying to be overly pessimistic or overly optimistic, but simply realistic.”

    That is cynnicism.

    Comment by Clay — April 1, 2006 @ 5:44 am | Reply

  4. I just went through a similair experience- after having my annual mammogram- was informed that one of my breast had shrunk from last year. I then went back for a compression of that breast two days later, and was then called and told that I would need a biopsy. Yesterday I went in for a biopsy, and the Dr. examined me while he was waiting for my xrays to be delivered to him. He was able to feel something but not enough to do a needle biopsy. So I was told that I would need a procedure that was available every two weeks at the hospital. As we continued to wait for the original xrays (that for some reason couldn’t be found) the Dr. talked to me about “cancer” and my options. I sat on the table trying to be a “mature 41 year old women”, acting as though this is all “OK”- I was then told to get dressed, and sit back in the waiting room- as the Dr. went to find the xrays himself. When he returned from Radiology, he told me my films seemed to be misplaced, and I would need to go have another set of mammograms done (free of charge). So I went to the Rad. Dept. and was met by the Radiologist in charge. She apologised for the inconveniece and again I was told these were “free” (Oh Goody!!) This time I had both breast done and the compressions were very painful- causing my right shoulder and arm to ache all night. As I sat in the room waiting for the films to be checked- I cried. Both the Dr. and Radiologist came in after what seemed to be forever- and then said that these latest xrays showed nothing to be concerned about. I was in shock- How could I go from being scheduled for a biopsy to being told “your breast are very healthy” The Dr. even said he went from being “very concerened” to not being concerned at all. I left feeling uneasy- not sure whether to feel relieved or even more concerned then before. I did get a message that my original xrays have been found- thats it. The Dr. hasn’t called me back- I do have an appt. with him next week, but I feel as though I deserve at least a call. In the last three weeks I’ve had three sets of mammograms done, and an extremely sore right side.

    Comment by Sharon — August 23, 2006 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  5. Amazing website from Wynell Lundi

    Comment by rynikkijamesd2 — June 16, 2011 @ 5:44 am | Reply

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