Tag Archives: pathology reports

Poetic Discourse

National Poetry Month, which takes place each April, is a celebration of poetry introduced in 1996. National Poetry Month began in the U.S. spearheaded by the Academy of American Poets on the steps of a post office in New York City. There, the story goes, Academy staff members handed out copies of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” which begins, “April is the cruellest month…” to individuals waiting in line to mail their tax returns.

Those of you who follow The Teal Diaries are aware that I write prose, however I’ve been inspired during my cancer treatments to pen a small collection of poetry. Here I’ve chosen to share two of my short poems. My compositions Patient’s Lab Results and A Visit to the Emergency Room both explore the life altering power of a cancer diagnosis.

 

Patient’s Lab Results

The sun is preparing to set on a late autumn afternoon,
its rays hold me together as I fall asleep dreaming of
my immaculate incision. Scarcely a week since my surgery.
I almost laugh to think I was such a novice.
Such a common virgin.

I pass through sliding doors to a point of no return.
Then I enter a vacant waiting room,
a place that is sinister, foreboding.
How many women have waited in these chairs?
How many innocent lives transformed?

“The ultrasound shows a growth on your ovary.”
“You need surgery to remove your uterus and right ovary.”
“You have cancer.”

Ultimately, he arrives, seeming anxious to print the pages.
“Here, this is for you.”
His words turn to ice as he offers me the pathology report.
Warmth as he grasps my hand, lending some reassurance.

My world dissolves as I take ownership of a disease.
The rapidly dividing cells, the cancerous tumors,
the abhorrent malignancy.

“Adenocarcinoma of the endometrium”
“The uterine cavity is completely filled with light tan neoplasm.”
“Right ovary with synchronous endometroid adenocarcinoma”

 

Immunotherapy one

 

A Visit to the Emergency Room

Riding unending waves of pain and nausea,
I take a secret pride in my endurance.
The sign over the door says MINOR EMERGENCIES.
Should I draw attention to this irony?

The young nurses seem aloof, peering out from
behind their curtain. I sense that we are to be
endured until morning comes. Around me
are the homeless, the destitute the addicted.

The fluorescent lights have been turned low,
casting a pale greenish tinge across the room.
Beeping monitors and moaning
patients provide the soundtrack.

I wonder if these souls feel entirely unaided,
abandoned, alone amid the chaos.
Each of us is fighting a singular
and solitary battle.

A torrent of frustration, then drowning I panic.
I want to scream that I’m a cancer patient
and my bowels are blocked.
I long for them to have evidence.
When will they be convinced?
I’m a bloated organ about to rupture.

The pre-dawn hours break like a fever
and I emerge from my delirium.
The kind eyes of the doctor and the
contrite look on the nurse’s face.

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Getting Organized: Learning to Manage Your Cancer Journey

 

IMG_0117When my gynecologist informed me that I had cancer almost three and half years ago the last thing on my mind was trying to manage the absolute chaos that my life had suddenly become. First, I was numb and in shock to learn that I had gynecological cancer at a fairly advanced stage. Once the dust had settled I found myself experiencing intense anger and fear, I was actually astonished to learn that emotions so strong existed. My life seemed to be spinning violently out of control and there appeared to be little I could do to stop this process or to regain a sense of stability. It was tempting to sit back and let things happen to me, and to believe that events were completely beyond my influence.

Despite my anxiety, I immediately realized that successful cancer treatment would require me to be an active participant, I would need to schedule and attend literally dozens of medical appointments. At the same time I would have to deal with the bureaucracy of the health-care system on an almost daily basis. Of course, I knew I could depend on family members to assist me when I was hospitalized or completely exhausted. But by and large I established that it was my cancer, my body and my complex journey to navigate.

Following my diagnosis I was often overwhelmed with the countless tasks that I was required to perform and with the hurried pace at which things were happening, but I’ve gradually devised my own system that enables me to be more organized. Over time I’ve learned to confront the practical life changes associated with cancer treatment, I’m now able to approach them with more efficiency and less hassle.

Keeping a Record of Your Treatment on Paper

 

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I strongly recommend keeping a personal record of your cancer treatment, including surgeries that are performed and any chemotherapy or radiotherapy that is administered. I have chosen to use a binder and I suggest the following other essential stationery supplies:

1. Page protectors (single page and multipage)
2. A hole punch
3. A stapler

I’ve used a combination of chronological order and straightforward categories to organize my documents. In case you’re wondering what needs to be in your cancer treatment diary, here is some of the key information that I’ve chosen to include in mine:

  • Basic documentation concerning my hospitalizations and surgeries
  • Complete pathology reports
  • A timetable of appointments, the specific drugs that I was given and other essential details regarding my chemotherapy
  • Physician progress notes summarizing my appointments at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre outpatient clinic

Using a Computer to Bring Your Journey Together

 

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Now that personal computers are firmly ingrained in our culture and nearly everyone is computer literate you’ll want to take advantage of this technology to make your cancer journey easier and more organized. As with traditional filing, you’ll require an organized system for letters, personal notes, essays and other word processing files. It’s best to create a classification system that makes sense to you and that allows you to locate files and documents quickly on your computer. Of course the Internet is invaluable for cancer patients wishing to learn more about their disease, but it’s essential to ascertain the difference between reliable or accredited sites and those that contain inaccurate, and sometimes even dangerous, information.

Some cancer patients have the advantage of accessing their official medical records online. Those of us being treated for cancer in Alberta unfortunately do not have access to these types of databases; my hope is that we might in the near future. I was excited to learn that there are plans to start an online portal this year that will give Albertan’s access to their prescriptions. Meanwhile, the intention is to add other medical information to the online system over time. In the interim I have to be content with requesting information from my medical records directly from the Tom Baker Centre and making sure each request is in writing. This can be a time consuming and tedious process, but it’s my judgment that the aggravation is worth it.

Ultimately the completeness or comprehensiveness of your medical information and the ease with which you can obtain medical records will vary depending on where in Canada you are receiving treatment. There is little doubt that receiving your cancer treatment in the United States or in a private health-care system may offer some advantages in terms of obtaining complete documentation. There is considerable bureaucracy and more overall effort involved by patients in the public system that I am a part of in Calgary, Alberta. We have to advocate a great deal for ourselves in terms of getting the information we need, and such pursuits can be difficult for a cancer patient when they are receiving chemotherapy or other active treatment. Personally I admit my medical appointments and diagnostic tests have slowed down substantially now that I’m in remission.

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Information Please

The moment I was diagnosed with cancer I entered a psychological realm where wanting to know everything about the disease alternated with fear and aversion. I realized it was solemn news when a week after my hysterectomy the phone range and my surgeon wanted to see me immediately. As I sat in my gynecologist’s office on that autumn afternoon, he was thoughtful enough to provide me with my own copy of the surgical pathology report, a crucial document outlining the specifics of my uterine and ovarian cancer. He estimated that it would be a couple of weeks before I could have a consultation with a team of oncologists at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. In the coming days I developed a love-hate relationship with the information that I had been given. Numb and in shock, I read over the three-page report repeatedly, meticulously researching the strange and frightening medical terminology.

I read the words endometroid adenocarcinoma for the first time, I didn’t comprehend until much later that I had learned my enemy’s name. Derived from the words “adeno” meaning pertaining to a gland and “carcinoma” meaning a cancerous tumour, the disease is a formidable adversary. One organ that is commonly affected includes the lining of the uterus, or endometrium. Adenocarcinoma is even more frequently diagnosed in the colon or the lungs. My surgical pathology report contained many confusing and ominous terms. I never thought of my reproductive organs as a possible death sentence, but that’s what the report seemed to be implicating. References to yellowish tan neoplasm and a uterine tumour measuring 11 centimetres at its greatest dimension both sickened and terrified me! At another point I started to pity my tiny right ovary. To make the personification complete, I’m sure she fought a valiant battle, but she was strangled by a separate tumour of about 7 centimetres.

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I’ve come a long way since I first read that menacing pathology report nearly a year and a half ago. My ability to deal with medical information and to collaborate with my health care team has improved since then. Today, I offer the following advice to cancer patients and their caregivers. In a broader sense these recommendations could probably apply to anyone facing a serious health crisis.

Knowledge is Power

You are the most important member of your cancer care team and it’s essential to actively participate in your care. Pay close attention throughout the process of your care and participate fully in discussions with your oncologist and other medical specialists. Don’t hesitate to raise any concerns with your oncologist or with other appropriate health care professionals on your cancer team. If something doesn’t seem right or you sense that certain issues aren’t being addressed speak up!

Find the Right Balance

Never in my life have I felt so simultaneously overwhelmed by an abundance of medial information and frustrated by a lack of it. This ambiguity of emotions is understandable in cancer patients as they undergo treatment for some of the most complex and difficult to understand diseases within the realm of medical science. Personally, I’ve discovered that tension and anxiety occur unless a balance of information about my cancer is achieved (not too much and not too little). In my opinion, this ideal equilibrium will vary. It also depends largely on an individual’s psychological makeup and is more often than not impossible to maintain constantly.

Use Only Reliable Sources

Simply explained, every cell in the body has a tightly regulated system that dictates when it needs to grow, mature and eventually die off. Cancer occurs when cells lose this control and divide and proliferate indiscriminately. Theories, treatments and possible explanations for cancer are abundant. They range from the factual or medically proven to the bizarre, absurd and downright dangerous. Regrettably there are a few contemptible individuals who knowingly try to profit from cancer patients or exploit our unique physical, emotional and psychological needs. I appreciate that the most specific and reliable information comes from my oncologist and the related medical professionals on my cancer care team. When I access printed materials or the abundance of online resources that are available, I am highly selective. I’d like to conclude this post by listing a few prominent organizations that I recommend.

The Canadian Cancer Society   http://www.cancer.ca

The American Cancer Society   http://www.cancer.org

CancerNet  http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/uterine-cancer

 Ovarian Cancer Canada   http://www.ovariancanada.org

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