A Long Day at Duke Cancer Center

Jimmy is out of town on business, so it has been my privilege to be Anne’s sidekick and caregiver while he is away.  Monday was her scheduled chemo day.  So we were up and out of the house early for the hour-long drive to Duke.  It was my first visit to the Cancer Center there.  I know that Anne and Jimmy have been very impressed by this new center and the care that she has been getting there so I was prepared for as good an experience as one can hope to have at a cancer center.

Anne has been having a lot of trouble with shortness of breath.  She has coughing attacks which cause her a lot of pain and make her feel like she is suffocating.  We had hoped to find out a cause and a solution to those problems while we were there.

From the moment we arrived we were treated with amazing care.  The Center offers Valet Parking, so we took advantage of that, and the valets were ready with a wheelchair as soon as we pulled up.

Our first stop was to have blood drawn for lab work.  Medical centers now use pagers, just like restaurants.  So we waited for our pager to go off, and then met the lab tech for the blood work.  From there it was upstairs to see a series of nurses, all of whom asked basically the same questions.  They took Anne’s vitals, sitting, standing, and walking.  In spite of her breathlessness, her oxygen level remained at acceptable levels through all of this.  Her heart rate increased markedly, however.  Finally we had a few minutes with the doctor, who ordered a CT scan of Anne’s lungs to look for the reason she’s having trouble breathing.  Meanwhile, I was sent back downstairs to the pharmacy to fill a prescription for an additional injection to follow her chemo.

Thank goodness for cell phones.  How did we ever survive without them?  I had been texting with Jimmy, trying to keep him informed about what was going on.  Once Anne was sent to the radiology section and me to the pharmacy, we were keeping each other updated via text.  The prescription took longer than I would have expected, and Anne was being prepared for the scan.  We were able to meet back up after her scan and head back to the doctor’s office again.  More waiting, followed by more talking to the nurses.  The preliminary results from the scan showed no significant change since her last scan.  This was good because there was some worry that her breathing problems might indicate a blod clot in her lung.  Also good because at least the cancer there doesn’t look like it is growing.  But bad because there was no answer offered as to why she can’t breathe well.  The medical staff did suggest that on her next visit to the center she meet with a counselor to work on some relaxation techniques.  Anne agreed, but mostly she was irritated that the implication seemed to be that the breathing problems are imagined, which they are not.

So next it was up to the treatment area for chemo.  It was 3:30, so Anne sent me down to the Food Court (who knew that medical facilities had food courts?) to get some lunch.  I came back with that and we ate lunch during her treatment.  Around 6:15 that was over and after a significant coughing attack, we were able to head home.

What I learned from all of this:
1. No matter how much a Cancer Center tries to act like a luxury hotel, it’s still a cancer center, and cancer still sucks.
2. All of the best medical providers in the world sometimes can’t answer your questions or provide relief.
3. You need to be smart to survive cancer.  Instructions, drug names, and complicated medical terms were all thrown at us quickly.  While the doctor was talking to us, I was nodding, but all I was really understanding was that I needed to go find the pharmacy.  The rest of the onslaught of information that she was going through was speeding by so fast that it was a blur.
4. Cancer strikes people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and economic groups with the same viciousness.  I was struck by how gracefully and determinedly everyone we came across seemed to be fighting their own battles.
5.  People are kind and good.  It would be so easy for people who are suffering to get caught up in their own troubles, but it seemed that all of the cancer patients we encountered were going out of their way to treat others with genuine caring.

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