Friday, May 29, 2009

Carrying the Cards You've Been Dealt....With Hope

This posting is about hope.

Patients need hope that they can be healed, that they can have minimal suffering, that their families are there beside them, etc. Many find solace in religious faith and/or in knowing that their loved ones are there to support them in time of a medical crisis.

It is a doctor's responsibility to give you accurate information in a respectful manner and to offer some solace without sugar coating anything.

There's no room for excess drama in a doctor's office. That should be saved for Grey's Anatomy and Dr. McDreamy or Dr. McSteamy, or whatever name he goes by.

Until this week, my hope in my bone health was faltering, all because of a pessimistic doctor who reviewed my dexa scan (bone density test) results as if he were an actor playing a doctor and as if he were full of knowledge.

Instead, he was full of crap.

Several months ago I had a dexa scan because I now have osteopenia, thanks to a faulty genetic line, premature menopause caused by chemotherapy -- and, oh yeah, the chemotherapy itself, which harms bones. Despite my drinking milk, taking calcium supplements, and doing weight-bearing exercises and being athletically fit, I was still losing bone. So I was put on Fosamax once a week the year prior to this year's dexa scan, in hopes that this medicine would increase my bone mass.

And the verdict was in! My bone mass went up significantly. I felt invincible, like a literate Rocky Balboa. But I am somewhat data challenged, so I went to a family practice doctor whom I used to like. My PCP wasn't in that day.

He said, "These are significant numbers, but for a person as young as you, these are very, very bad results. And there's nowhere for you to go but down."

I was crushed. All I wanted was a glimmer of hope.

After all, bone density increasing is good news. Period. And yet, he reduced me nearly to tears. Was this the way Rocky felt when Apollo Creed gave him a good whack?

Defiantly, I told Dr. Downer that I endured surgery and chemotherapy and radiation, and I believed that I could continue to increase my bone density further because I'm so proactive in my health.

He stared at me blankly and said, "That's not going to happen. No matter what you do, your bones are going to continue to deteriorate. As I said, there's no place for you to go but down."

I left depressed. Without hope. I figured -- misguidedly -- that there was no hope of building my bone mass, so there was no point in staying in shape. I did very little exercising, compared to the workouts I used to do when I thought they were benefiting me. But then, in a few weeks, I rallied, figuring exercise has other benefits, such as stress reduction, cardiovascular health, and its contribution to wellness. So I was back on the road again.

Flash forward to this week, when I saw my oncologist for my routine followup, who is dedicated and tries his best to give his patients hope without sugar coating anything. I don't know what made me think of the dexa scan at the end of the appointment, but I told him I had gained bone mass this year.

My oncologist was so different from Doctor Grim Creeper whom I saw months before. My oncologist said, "Great! That is GREAT news!" I then asked him the question, afraid to hear the answer, but knowing if I must hear bad news, it's best coming from him.

"So, is it possible that I can build even more bone mass in the future?" And to my shock he said, "Absolutely!" So I asked him with disbelief, "Really?" And he said, "Yes. It's very possible."

I had already started my jogging/walking routine before I saw my oncologist, but now I do it with much more hope and zest and a smile on my face. Next year's dexa scan results are unpredictable, but I now have hope to hold onto -- the hope that I can accept the hand I'm dealt, but also the hope that I can play the hand as well as possible.

Oh and about that first doctor -- he's so fired.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She can be contacted at and