Now that I live in Pennsylvania, I have to find new oncologists, of course. Recently, I spent a stunning amount of time on the phone getting registered with the docs at the University of Pennsylvania. The doctors there in the breast cancer center are named “top docs” in a number of places, and they’re known for their cutting-edge research.
I feel confident that I’ll be in good hands.
After the lengthy registration process, I was finally on the phone with one of the new patient coordinators. I found out that I can only see the doctor once I have exactly the medical records that they want. I am supposed to provide them with letters from the radiation oncologist and the medical oncologist and also charts from chemo. The charts give detailed information about the chemo treatments I received. I also have to provide imaging from 2007 (before I was diagnosed) and 2008, which is when I was diagnosed.
But then the lady told me that she also needs my original biopsy. My stomach lurched. My biopsy? I flooded with panic, and then I wasn’t even sure why I was panicking. I know I was upset that I’d have to do all the sleuthing and phone calls necessary to coordinate what I imagined was a Herculean effort to get slides of tissue samples from my original biopsy in January 2008.
I still remember the day of my biopsy quite clearly. It is not a happy memory.
Then I found out that I had to get the slides from my surgery too.
I pictured a huge package of dry ice with slivers of cancer stuck on glass slides, making its way across the country to my home. My new home. My cancer free home. My cancer free life, dammit!
I asked the new patient coordinator why the doctors wanted my slides. Apparently the doctors like to do their own pathology on the slides, and then they send them back.
Then I really felt sick.
I imagined that they’d find something on the slides to indicate that all the original pathology was wrong and that I had the wrong chemotherapy, the wrong surgery, the wrong everything.
I felt thrown off for the rest of the day, with this vaguely ill haze hovering over me. The thought that there are cancer cells — my cancer cells — out there, travelling back to me, was overwhelmingly sad.
I don’t want those cells anywhere near me.
Of course the doctors want to be thorough. I get it. And I also get how lucky I am to have access to doctors at all, especially such excellent ones. When I am not anxious, I do remember to be grateful.
So, today I steeled myself and made the calls. It took approximately 60 seconds to set up. Apparently, they don’t send a huge package of dry ice. They send dry slides with the slivers of cells in preservative. Naturally, the woman who coordinated everything was not surprised by my request; she arranges for slides to be shipped all the time.
In a few days, I’ll have a box of cancer waiting for me on the porch when I get home from work.
And believe me, I do know how lucky I am to be griping that the cells will be on the porch. At least they are not in my body.