I had breakfast this morning in Las Vegas with my friend, Dave Garcia. Dave is a pit boss on the graveyard shift at the Belagio Hotel where they made the modern day Ocean's buddy movies.
Dave is also a 52-year-old chronic lymphocytic leukemia survivor. He reached out to me online and we have been friends since soon after his diagnosis in 2002.
Dave is a father of two young kids. He dreams of seeing them grow up. But, understandably, he worries. Some days more than others. Today was his day to see his oncologist and get the latest blood test results. Would his white blood count be in the normal range? If so, his third round of treatment was still working. If not, he might be headed to a stem cell transplant, short-term disability, and living in another city for weeks or months.
As' you can imagine, Dave was on pins and needles today. He would be against more chemo as he worries about the toxic drugs killing cancer cells but weakening him in the long run. Dave admits his blood pressure goes up on these days.
Dave is not alone in his fear. For millions of cancer survivors, while each day is special, some days are anxiety producing. For me it's when I have a strange ache or pain. I rarely tell Esther, but I worry. For almost everyone it's on days when we are having a 'checkup.' The worry is, is this the day another shoe will drop? Fortunately, that hasn't come for me yet and I hope it never will.' I am happy to say Dave just texted me. His worry today was unfounded. The WBC was normal. He was given a pass at least for a few more months. We hope forever!
At another meeting today in Las Vegas there was a discussion about information for cancer patients. Nurses ticking off all sorts of facts and admonishments to patients. The nurses feel they are doing their job of education quite well. Some patients would say maybe not so well. How come? Fear. For us it is not clinical routine. It is our lives on the line at diagnosis or at a checkup. We often don't hear so well in those moments. Dave may not have heard so well today. Only one word counted: 'normal.'
A lot is said by clinical folks about patients not taking their medicines correctly. That will be especially critical as more cancer medicines become oral rather than infused. My advice to the communicators and educators is to acknowledge a patient/survivor's fear. By understanding how treatment days, the diagnosis by itself, and checkups make us anxious you can understand a lot and communication can be more effective.
Congratulations to my friend Dave on a positive doctor visit. I look forward to rolling the dice with you for many years to come and the dice always coming up 7's!
Wishing you and your family the best of health!