Opinion: Column: I'm Here to Report

As my brother, Richard, has often said: "If the oncologist is happy, then I'm happy." Let me update that sentiment slightly: "If the endocrinologist is happy, then I'm happy." And so we should all be happy. Yesterday, I had my post-CT scan telephone appointment with my endocrinologist to discuss the previous day's lab work and the two days previous scan. She was "very encouraged." "News," as I told her, "with which I can live." And more than just the words she spoke, it's the manner in which she spoke them. Her tone was positive, uplifting; she was very pleased. I could almost see her smiling. After hearing it all, she didn't need to tell me to have a nice weekend. I was well on my way. Oddly enough, I have learned to take good news in stride. It's the bad news that has a tendency to knock me off my gait.

Prior to this Friday morning call, I had received, electronically, as I usually do, the automated releases of both my lab work and the radiologist's report. Having been down this road for nearly 12 years now, I am not unaware of discouraging results. The words I read and the numbers I see always tell a story. And even though I'm somewhat experienced, the interpretation and meaning of it all doesn't automatically jump out at me. Oh sure, I'm familiar enough and certainly know what lab results (levels) generally speaking are problematic (creatinine and bilirubin particularly). But there's so much more that I don't know. Moreover, there is no real breakdown-type summary to clarify beyond all my reasonable doubts as to what is happening in/to my body. I'm sort of left to my own devices. Devices which have proven to be unreliable – and certainly ones not very educated on the matter at hand. If this were about baseball, I wouldn't be clueless at all. But it's cancer and science and medicine; all the subjects I know very little about.

Released automatically, I receive the same document that the doctors do. That means what I'm reading is the actual report, written by a doctor for a doctor. The report is full of medical jargon. And though there are "impressions” provided as well, as an organ-by-organ characterization, until I speak with one of my doctors and have them review the report with me, I'm never quite sure if what I think I understand is wishful thinking or whether my worst nightmare is happening during the day.

As a result, there are lots of words and medical assessments that are lost on me. It's not like reading a baseball box score when I know what everything means and its significance. Sure, there are many familiar words, but there are more that are not. Obviously, "no new sites of metastatic disease” I can understand and appreciate, literally. But "aortic atherosclerotic calcification" and "intrathoracic and axillary lymphadenopathy" I don't. Understand them? I can barely pronounce them, let alone spell them. And as much information is provided in these reports, I feel as if I need a scorecard to identify all the players and determine what it all means.

Now when I have that follow-up phone call with the endocrinologist/oncologist, the report is explained. However, the explanations are not chapter and verse, they are more like sentence and paragraph. They're short and hopefully, as it was time, sweet. Of course, I could ask more questions, but as the comedian Dennis Miller once joked on the radio: "I don't care how the popcorn is popped, I just want it to pop." So too am I less concerned with the popping (details). I want to know if I'm going to live or die. Unfortunately, the reports – and the conversations – don't really offer a glimpse into the future as much as they attempt to clarify the present – which apparently is as good as it is likely to get. If 11 years and nine months as a cancer patient has taught me anything, it has taught me to be grateful for any good news, however indeterminate.

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