Greetings from Cancerland: Dear Doctor

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Alysa Cummings

Alysa Cummings

Dear Doctor,

I am writing to say I’m sorry. I know my apology is almost 11 years overdue, but I mean it. I really do.

With so many doctors on the team working at the imaging center, what are the odds that you would be the one reading my films this year? But as luck would have it, after my Fall 2009 mammogram last week, I walked down the hall to chat with the radiologist on call like I always do. And there you were in your long white coat, standing in the semi-darkness peering up at the screens filled with ghostly compressed breast images. No one was more surprised than me.

You must remember me. How could you ever possibly forget the patient who pushed you across the room?

It was an awful day (what I now refer to as the Eve of Diagnosis) and yes, I remember all the details vividly. After reviewing the initial films, you sent me back for more views. Then I had an ultrasound. Next, you stepped into the room and walked over to talk to me. I don’t know, you said, your voice trailing off with uncertainty. There’s something there, but I don’t know. I just don’t know. You said those same words over and over again, in a low voice, almost under your breath actually, as if you were talking to yourself, with this incredibly serious expression on your face. But Doctor, I was sitting right there on the edge of the examining table facing you. Unfortunately I heard you loud and clear.

Maybe there was just one I-don’t-know too many that set me off. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that there was a metallic taste of panic in my mouth, along with a pounding pain in my head. There was too much cancer uncertainty for one person to sanely cope with. And since I felt so scared, so powerless and couldn’t push away the fear that there was a malignant tumor growing somewhere in my right breast, I did the next best thing. I put my hands on your shoulders and gave you a shove. (an-Elaine-Benes-from-Seinfeld-GET-OUT-kind-of-shove). Pushed you away instead. Crazy time: in what seemed like slow motion, you stumbled backwards, your eyes wide with surprise, then regained your balance and without saying a word, quickly left the room.

Fast forward – 11 long years later, (one mastectomy, eight rounds of chemo and 35 radiation treatments later) – and there we were together again last week, face to face. And in that highly charged moment, I couldn’t push any words of apology past my lips. I was much too embarrassed. Especially when I noticed that when our eyes met, without missing a beat, you coolly rolled over an office chair to fill the open space between us.

Just in case…