“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”
Dear My Oncologist,
This year was my 11th anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. For the past 6 or 7 years I have visited your office every year. I graduated to yearly check-ups after I passed my 5 year anniversary, as you well know. My annual visit is usually sometime during the month of April as that coincides with when I received my diagnosis. Each year, during the weeks leading up to my appointment, presumably like most cancer survivors, I feel pangs of anxiety that manifest in various ways. Mostly I do a great deal of remembering, feeling and thinking about those miserable days during my illness.
Nasty memories of severe nausea intermingle with fond memories of the warmth, competence and compassion of “Mary” and “Jane”, the nurses that worked with me.
The recollections of pain caused by surgeries, endless needle sticks and physical therapy are assuaged because I recall the warm smile, genuine care, concern and skill of “Rita” who ran the lab.
The fear and panic I experienced from the initial diagnosis gave way to hope and confidence because of you, my physician. You were always candid, honest and direct with me, which I greatly appreciated. Despite the fact that my pathology report was concerning to you, I never at any time felt that you considered my long term survival in question. That attitude rubbed off on me as well and while I was frightened (ok more like scared shitless!) and knew I was facing a tough haul, I never doubted for a moment that I would survive.
Later on, I came to regard my yearly visits with you as more of a chance to receive a joyful hug and bring each other up to speed on the year’s personal highlights, rather than the medical visit that it was.
This year was different for me. I actually forgot my appointment that had been set the year before. This past April, I was out of town, traveling on business and something I saw must have brought it to mind when I suddenly realized…I had forgotten! I called your office and as it turned out, the person that answered said that they were in fact, about to call me. I had missed my appointment that had been scheduled for that very day! I forget many things, and often have to resort to relying on lists and calendar entries to keep my days in check, but I never had to make a note of an oncology appointment. I guess something about me has changed and that somehow, the date didn’t loom as large as it had in the past.
I have finally come to the realization that I truly did kick cancer’s ass. I no longer require the services of an oncologist and the time has come for me to move on.
In many ways I have looked forward to writing you this letter for a very long time.
Dr. Oncologist, in so many words, what I would like to tell you, with the utmost love, humor and triumph I can muster is ....
Please accept my deepest appreciation for all that you and your staff have done for me over the years. I hope they too, understand and celebrate along with me for the reasons that I will no longer be returning as a patient.
As I have mentioned in the past, I will always be more than happy to speak with any of your patients that you feel may need a pep talk or advice from a survivor, especially the ones just starting out on the arduous journey.
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P.S. Perhaps if you decide to change your specialty to Geriatric Medicine I would be delighted to utilize your services in the distant future!