A Boring Sunday Afternoon
It’s June in Florida, hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, and we’re holed up inside the house with nothing to do. Bored, I leaf through our small town paper, when a full-page, color ad catches my eye:
Seeking post-menopausal women for clinical research study on hot flashes.
New medication and compensation provided for qualified applicants.
Free Q & A session and lunch provided.
Medical doctor to speak and answer questions.
Call 352-555-HOTFLASH to make your appointment.
Free lunch. Great bait. “Honey, take a look at this.” I pass the paper to my husband and hold my breath, waiting. “Well, what do you think?”
He scanned the ad, nodded, and returned the paper. “Couldn’t hurt to go listen, right?”
Relieved, I said, “Right!” Folding the paper in half, I close my eyes, and rapidly fan off tiny beads of perspiration forming on my brow. Hot dog! All my troubles will be over and I’ll sweat no more. A gift sent straight from heaven. Grabbing a pad of paper, I jotted down the phone number to call first thing on Monday.
Excitement kept my eyes from shutting all night. At dawn, I rolled out of bed and dressed quickly, flipped the switch on the coffee maker, and watched the clock until it flipped over to nine o’clock.
A perky receptionist answered, “Naturecoast Clinical Research, how may I help you?”
“Yes, this is Penelope Silvers. I’d like to sign up for the free lunch session.”
“Great! I’ve got you down.”
I take a deep breath and plunge in, “Oh, and could my husband tag along? We can bring his lunch.” I explained how he’d suffered a stroke a mere seven months before, and didn’t like to be far from me. A week before Christmas, I’d arrived home from the store to find this six-foot, seven-inch, gladiator of a man frightened and crying on the front porch. He’d forgotten where I’d gone.
“Yes, he may come,” she said. “We’ll have enough food for both of you.” Sighing my thanks, I hung up. Grateful he could attend, I wouldn’t have to worry about him being alone. One less thing on my plate.
The day of our briefing dawned hot and muggy. We arrived at the office, and our tiny group—a plump brunette, a freckled redhead who never stopped fanning and wiping her brow, my husband and me—are ushered by the nurse into a compact conference room.
We sat at the end of a long, oblong table. Clipboards holding blank medical release forms were passed around, and we begin penning in our information as the doctor spoke. He said, “All medical tests will be provided. Before you’re accepted into this triple blind study you’ll get a complete physical.”
A hot flush diary was given to each of us, and from this point on, we were known only by our subject initials and subject number. Keeping track of sweats from mild, moderate, severe, to none was to be our assignment.
Famished, and reeling from digesting heaps of information, we were given the green light to rip open bulging brown paper sack lunches and dive into our lunch of turkey subs, chips, cookie and drinks.
There were hurdles to overcome, first being to make it through all medical tests before given the green light. Appointments were crammed into one day by staff, wanting to quickly start me on either a placebo or the test medication.
Blood work was going to be difficult. My veins are tiny and tend to roll away from needles. I informed Sherrie, the nurse, she’d end up using my hand. That’s exactly where she headed after bruising up both arms. My blood was sludgy (their words) on this day, so she gave me (and herself) some relief and sent me off for test number two.
Pap was done quickly; mammogram next. I considered backing out, but didn’t, since one four years prior nearly caused me pass to out. As in my second attempt with an accounting class after college, this was a piece of cake. Results would come back in about forty-eight hours, so I left and put it out of my mind.
Several days later the call came. Sherrie said the radiologist had expressed some concern about abnormalities on my mammogram. “You need to go back to Dr. Scott so he can look over the film, and give you another breast exam.” She assured me, “We’ve seen these things before. Don’t worry about it; it’s usually nothing.”
At the doctor’s office, he said, “I can’t feel any lumps here.” I paused for a moment before correcting him. “Um, doc it’s the other breast.”
“Oh, sorry.” He moved to the left. No lumps were found; no symptoms. He pointed at the film and said, “See these spots? They appear as tiny grains of sand, called microcalcifications. I’d like to refer you to an oral surgeon for further testing.”
Several days later, the surgeon, Dr. Rhodes checked me over but again can’t detect anything. He said, “I’d like to schedule you for a biopsy at the hospital, just to rule anything out.”
Fear turned my hot flashes to ice. Hesitantly, I ask him, “How do you perform a biopsy?”
“We go into the breast with a very thin needle in a couple different locations and extract out a sample of the affected tissue.” I cringe as he continues. “Testing the tissue will rule out any possibility of cancer,” he said.
Surgery now loomed for the first time in my life. Fifty-four years I enjoyed robust health—never even a broken bone. Steeling myself, I wanted a clean bill of health, and my life back as I knew it.
Prayers flew to heaven up to the day of the biopsy. A team of four nurses, alongside the doctor, were waiting for me inside the tiny operating room. Shivering, I lay face down on the table with my breast through a cut-out hole, the twenty-third Psalm running through my head as I attempt to calm myself. One of the nurses covered me with a warm blanket and gently placed her hand on my back. Nerves on edge, cold sweat poured from my body. Quickly, the procedure was over and I was wheeled back to the recovery room.
Dr. Rhodes held my hand and said, “You did great. Call my office in about two weeks for the results.” I recalled Sherrie’s words, It’s nothing. Most of these are benign. Calm and peace flooded over me again. I knew many others were praying for me. Benign and fine. This had now become my motto.
Incense hit my nostrils and soothing new age music played in the background the day of my appointment with Dr. Rhodes. Peering at me from behind glass, a young girl cracked open the window, asked me to sign in, then quickly averted her eyes.
My husband and I sat quietly together in the sparsely furnished waiting room. Robotically, I flipped through a Reader’s Digest article on “30 Tips to do Something.” I see words on the page, but I’m not reading.
“Penelope Silvers?” The nurse stands at the door, waiting.
“Yes. I’m here.”
We’re then ushered to a room. The silence is deafening before the doctor makes an entrance, barely sits, then blurts out, “Unfortunately, it’s cancer, but it looks like stage 1. We caught it early.”
The room shrinks and becomes stifling. I can’t breathe and my heart hammers in my chest. I’d been so sure—everyone had been so sure—nothing was wrong. We were all wrong.
Bits and pieces of the doctor’s voice float on the air. Lumpectomy…..Masectomy….surgery….” He held out papers full of pictures and words, circling things, but I couldn’t focus, couldn’t breathe. “Do you have any questions?” he asked.
I glanced over at my dear husband’s stunned face. It was clear escape was in order to get out of here and process this information.
We’re both numb as we walk out of his office. My husband begins to cry, and I take charge as I have for the last nine months. “Don’t you think God knows all about this? We can get through this. There’s nothing to fear. At least, now we know and can make some plans.”
Cars buzz up and down the highway, with people going about their day as we were moments before. Now we’re making life and death decisions.
Many sleepless nights and shed tears later, the decision was made to go to Moffitt Cancer Hospital in Tampa. My breast cancer was a stage 2. Although it wasn’t in the lymph nodes, it was HER3+, a very aggressive type of cancer. I had the simple mastectomy, made it through six rounds of chemotherapy, and 18 treatments of Herceptin. The cancer is gone from my body, and my prognosis is good.
Life Goes On
Relief never came for my hot flashes—they’re still with me, but I’m alive. All from reading a newspaper, finding an ad, and making an impulsive decision one hot Sunday afternoon in June.
I believe we can spot miracles in our lives if we stop and pay attention. Tell me about a miracle in your life. I’d love to hear from you!