Friday, December 29, 2006

Crossed lines

Our friend Lee has had all her medical tests done and found an excellent surgeon who has now performed the breast conservation procedure--formally used to be known as a lumpectomy, I believe.

Her surgeon also practices Reiki, which in its simplest form is simply the practitioner placing his or her hands on the recipient with the intent of bringing healing and willing for Reiki energy to flow. It was very important to Lee that the surgeon she chose have a holistic approach to the concept of healing.

During the operation, a biopsy was performed and thankfully the cancer had not spread to her lymph glands. In other words, the cancer was contained to the lump that was removed from her breast. Lee presented her surgeon with the gift of a miraculous medal she's had since childhood, a gesture that moved the woman very much.

At this stage, I have to admit that lines of communication somehow got crossed when she called Larry on the evening of her surgery and said she was doing well and given the all clear as nothing had been found in the biopsy. Larry was mistaken and assumed she meant that they had not discovered cancer and she was thus cancer-free. I was in NYC that day on business and he informed me of her 'great news' that night on my return. Next day, I called her still acting on the assumption and the phone just rang and rang so I thought she'd gone back to work. Next day, I rang again and the view she'd not had cancer endured throughout the call and beyond--which, it transpires, is not the case because she must now go through five or so radiation treatments and various follow-up visits.

Larry and I assumed she was fine and, as there were just two days left, probably very busy with the run up to Christmas so there was no further contact until we met at Sharon and Michelle's for Christmas Eve dinner.

Finding myself seated beside Lynne at table, I turned to her (a few turns prior to the turn that sent the chair back arcing toward the sideboard) and said, "That was such fantastic news about Lee. You must be so relieved."
"What do you mean, 'relieved?'"
I chinked my eyes in befuddlement. "Well, that she doesn't have cancer."
She looked at me strangely. "She had cancer and they removed it."

As we discussed further, I realized our mistake and was aghast. (We'd even been calling friends to say it had been a false alarm and that Lee was fine.)

In hindsight--as only hindsight can reveal--I did remark to Lee during the call that her initial tests must have been what are called 'false positives' to which she replied 'Not...not really', but I didn't follow up on the comment and we moved on to other topics. Moreover, after the call, I remember thinking how ironic it is that so many Americans scoff at the British National Health Service and its failings and budget problems, but the American system, too, makes mistakes and false disgnoses such as Lee's.

"I'm so glad we've sorted this," Lynne said. "Lee's been getting calls from so many people this last few days asking how she's feeling, and she was so hurt because she didn't hear from you, guys. She said a few times, 'I wonder why Larry and Damian haven't called to see how I am.'"
What did you say?" I said.
"I just made excuses..." She laughed, "because I had no explanation and just didn't know what was wrong."
"You should have called us...even if it had been to bitch us out...and we're such good friends, you should have known something wasn't right. Oh, my God, I can't believe this mistake has happened between us who see each other so often."

We've been close friends for years so the misunderstanding was, of course, understood and forgiven, utterly. However, it serves as a valuable lesson to others in two regards, I think: first, I don't think men fully understand the entirety of what's involved when their mothers, wives, sisters and women friends are diagnosed with breast cancer--I think we have a tendency to downplay illness, including any sustained by others; and, secondly, I think people don't listen as much as they used to in the days before the advent of our craving for blackberries, emails, IM and cell phones, etc. We're losing the art of conversation. Clearly Lee had meant the cancer had not spread when we assumed she'd never had it in the first place and the initial results had rendered a false positive.

All in all, it also made me wonder how many countless misunderstandings take place throughout the US every day in every sphere of life including politics, some with very serious repercussions.

Finally, two useful sites to visit are:
mammogram if you've been putting off having one and another is National Breast Cancer Foundation for information



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1 comment:

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