Today in therapy I realized that starting a clinical trial means getting a whole new medical team. This fact had flitted across my mind a few times since I made my treatment decision on Friday, but I’d been batting it away. I’ll be getting a new oncologist, I said in response to my psychiatrist, who had asked what enrolling in a trial would mean for me. And then I started to cry. 

He said, It’s not just a new oncologist you’re getting. I don’t actually know if that was a question or a statement or a device to get me thinking. But I answered it like a question — no, it’s a whole new medical team, new nurses, new assistants, I’ll even have someone new drawing my blood. I won’t even be going to the same part of the hospital.

He asked, what does it mean that you will be in a different part of the hospital? and I said, I’ll be in a different waiting room. I won’t know anyone and I’ll probably be the only ovarian cancer patient there. Then I laughed and said I sounded like I was a kid worried about going to a new school.

I realized that for the first time in almost seven years, Dr. M won’t be helping me make my decisions. I don’t know what the new oncologist will be like. Dr. M knows me and I know her and she knows what kind of information and I want and how I want it. And it’s a bit scary to leave her, even though I know she isn’t going anywhere and that she’ll be my oncologist again at whatever point I’m finished with the study. It’s just…change.

We talked about ways I can make myself feel better about the unfamiliar I’m stepping into (see the exam rooms and waiting room, meet the medical team, which check and check) and my psychiatrist talked about Buddhist philosophy and explained the concept of mindfulness in a way that finally clicked for me (it had to do with the idea of remaining present while making decisions for the future) and he was talking about recognizing and acknowledging feelings but also setting them aside and understanding that they are transitory in order to help me feel less anxious. And I told him I did that and I knew that and then I sat there without looking at him or saying anything, just staring at my feet (and I still couldn’t tell you if the floor is carpeted or bare). When I finally opened my mouth I said, but I’m still sad right now and then I asked to end the session 20 minutes early.

I remembered that Natasha had lent me a book on mindfulness-meditation and when I came home from therapy today, I picked it up and started reading. And there was a part that described looking at an ocean and seeing each wave, the highs and the lows, and how we have to remember that despite the distinctness between the waves, each wave is water. And I thought about David Foster Wallace’s parable about the fish in his Kenyon commencement speech, and how he talked about how freedom is awareness and dedication and discipline and how we have to remind ourselves as we swim along that this is water, and then I realized that he basically paraphrased the whole of Thich Nhat Hanh’s You are Here, which I for some reason find strangely satisfying. 




About Alicia Louise

I'm a writer, editor, fact checker, storyteller, events organizer, chronically busy yet endlessly lazy, mildly neurotic (though I keep the neuroses well-hidden, one hopes) 32-year-old with recurrent ovarian cancer. I like people and good writing and straight talk. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people, including myself, but the people that I love, I love passionately; one may even say creepily. I try to keep that mostly to myself. I'd like to be charming, but I'm usually just a mess. I'm like a gull slamming into your windshield.
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5 Responses to Unfamiliar

  1. Chantelle says:

    Long time lurker Chantelle here. Mindfulness has been recommended to me too, but I haven’t gathered the energy to get going on it. What book are you reading? Thanks.

  2. I changed two medical teams and five oncologist on my second verse. It might feel awkward or unsecure to adapt to new people, but it also builds inner strength and self-confidence. This is your treatment, this is your show. Don’t forget it.

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