Welcome to Cancerland


Like the 7 levels of the Candy Cane forest outlined by Buddy the Elf in the movie Elf,  there are levels in Cancerland. The levels in Cancerland aren’t nearly as fun as those in the Candy Cane forest; I’ve yet to come across anything approximating the swirly, twirly gum drops at any point along this cancer “journey.” I don’t know what the official levels in Cancerland are, or if they even exist outside of the esoteric nature of those saddled with the disease, but I suspect they are akin to the 5 stages of grief. So for now, let’s say that the 5 stages of Cancerland include utter shock upon being diagnosed; extreme pissed-off-edness at losing body parts and quality of life, coupled with the potential for losing my life itself; crippling helplessness and a total lack of control in regards to recurrence; unpredictable fear and panic at any given time; and soul-crushing depression at the “new normal” that follows a cancer “journey.”

Today I ran smack-dab into level 2, the extreme pissed-off-edness. Sometimes this level manifests in its pure form, which is flat-out anger at the wrongs done to my body & mind by cancer. But sometimes, like today, it’s a more specific form of pissed-off-edness: extreme irritability. We’re talking the worst PMS rage multiplied by a prime number, divided by the number of times the urge strikes to choke someone, subtracted from the complete absence of rationality, added to the utmost amount of self-control required to avoid screaming and spewing at anyone who’s unfortunate enough to cross my path.

When this specific phase of pissed-off-edness hits, woe be unto the person who absent-mindedly leaves their shopping cart parked in the middle of the aisle while they price-compare cans of soup. I pity the fool who on the road ahead of me who finds him/herself in the wrong lane and stops in the middle of the road instead of continuing along with the flow of traffic until able to execute a U-turn or otherwise get the hell out of my way. Too bad, so sad for the person who lingers at middle-school drop-off in the morning to wish their child a good day or to remind that child to do their best in all pursuits today. Move it or lose it, people.

Today the specific phase of pissed-off-edness reared its head and tried my patience and self-control in many ways. Allow me to set the scene: as I walked into yet another doctor’s office for yet another interminable wait to hear yet more depressing news about the new normal that follows life in Cancerland, I tripped over the uneven sidewalk. I fell on my newly-repaired knee and tore my favorite workout pants. My purse clattered to the pavement and my iPhone skittered out of my hand. My other hand, which broke my fall, became embedded with dirty gravel.

An elderly Asian man stopped to retrieve my phone and tried to help me up. I rudely shook him off, not caring that I appeared ungrateful. I muttered a terse thanks with eyes averted, head bowed. Collecting the shreds of my dignity, I hobbled into the building, trying to be grateful that my knee wasn’t bleeding (it was easy to ascertain this through my torn pants) but knowing my attempt at gratitude was futile. The elevator doors closed just as I reached them, solidifying my opinion that precious little was redeemable in this day, even though it was not yet 9 a.m., and hinting at the scent of extreme pissed-off-edness that was swirling around me, but not in a twirly gum drop kind of way.

An hour later–a full hour–I was still stuck waiting in the waiting room (has ever a more apt term existed??), captive in an uncomfortable chair and unable to escape the annoying prattle of the TV, tuned to an awful loop of medical advice, exercise tips, and pharmaceutical ads. I can now easily recite the side effects for AndroGel from memory. I’m most definitely not going to try the recipe for homemade spelt crackers the perky woman shared on the cooking segment. I exercised great restraint in not throwing something at the TV during the segment on BMI and weight-control. As the announcer droned on & on about the importance of physical exercise for overall health & well-being, I wanted to hurl expletives and yell that I’d love to be pursuing some physical exercise if I weren’t trapped in this blasted waiting room, WAITING for the doctor.

Just when I think it can’t get any worse, a woman shuffled in and sits right next to me, despite an entire row of empty seats. She alternated between conducting a loud conversation on her cell phone about her hurt feelings regarding being left out of a relative’s birthday party, and coughing violently and wetly in my direction. When I got up to move away from her and her disgusting germs, she muttered, “How rude.” Oh, that’s rich, and rife with pissed-off-edness.

An hour and a half later, I was still waiting. She was still yapping about the birthday party, and she was still coughing indiscriminately. While she yapped and coughed and the TV droned on & on, I thought about all the things I was not getting done while I sat and waited. Cue even more pissed-off-edness. This is par for the course, a normal day, another thrilling ride through Cancerland. I know this, I’ve been there before, and yet it still results in this particular brand of blood-boiling pissed-off-edness.

When the nurse finally summoned me, she apologized for keeping me waiting, and I struggled with the proper response: to say “no problem” implies that’s it’s ok, when it’s not, but to let her know that it’s not ok seems rude,especially since it’s not her fault.

As she took my blood pressure she asked for my copies of my test results/lab work. Like a whiny pupil caught without last night’s homework, I muttered that I didn’t know I was supposed to bring that. No one told me to bring that, and anyway, I wouldn’t know where to start, how to untangle that knot. Then I realized she meant my last round of blood work, which I had done a few days ago at my oncologist’s office. She offered to call his office to get the results while I wondered if I’ll have to sign a release for that. She assured me that they all “try to work together,” even though I’m guessing he’s never heard of this doc, and vice versa. What about the pages of privacy paperwork I’ve had to sign? Are those just lip service that crumbles in the interest of “working together?” These are the things I think about as I wait, and wait, and wait for the doctor.

The nurse left me to go make that phone call, and I waited some more.

I was sorely tempted to steal the In Style magazine with Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover, even though I don’t even want to read it. Just looking at her glowing good health on the cover made me mad, a feeling that only intensified as I thought about her macrobiotic vegan lifestyle. I’m jealous, I admit. Although I don’t aspire to a macrobiotic vegan lifestyle it angered me nonetheless that she practices it. I bet she never waits like this in a doctor’s office. My belief in the karma wheel stopped me from stealing the magazine out of spite–toward the long wait, toward Gwyneth’s good health, and toward her macrobiotic vegan lifestyle.

My long to-do list mocked me as I waste more time waiting, always waiting. I grew restless and bored, not to mention irritable, and found no solace in my kindle. I chided myself for not paying more attention in the 3 yoga classes I’ve attended in my lifetime, because some calming breaths and restorative chi would be great right about now. Perhaps such mindful, peaceful practices could help me ward off the pissed-off-edness monster huffing at my gate.

By the time the doctor walked through the door, 2 hours had passed and I’m exhausted from the waiting and the pissed-off-edness. I scolded myself for letting this get the better of me and reprimanded myself to be polite to the doctor, even though I want to show her my bitchy side and peel back the curtain to expose the extreme pissed-off-edness in all its raging glory.

Instead, I recited my sordid medical history since April 2010 when a lump in my right breast set off the chain of events that landed me here, in yet another doctor’s office, exhausted, bored, disgruntled, and contemplating kleptomania. I’m experienced enough and jaded enough (and pissed-off enough) to believe she will offer no solutions beyond perhaps adding another prescription drug to my burgeoning stable or perhaps patting my hand, frowning sympathetically and encouraging me to buck up while reminding me that I’ve been through an awful lot recently. I’d already decided that if she were to tell me to get used to it, that this is all part of post-cancer life, my response will be swift and premeditated: I will overturn the biohazard waste bin, kick the exam table, and maybe even hurl her stool through the window. These are my fantasies as I navigate my way through the levels of Cancerland.

Lucky for her, she did not pat my hand or rush to her prescription pad. She took copious notes on my symptoms, perhaps highlighting and flagging the extreme pissed-off-edness that lingered just under the surface of this normal conversation. She ordered yet more blood work and told me to schedule yet another appointment in a week to see what the blood work reveals. My guess is that my iron level will be low, my thyroid will be underperforming, and my level of extreme pissed-off-edness will be off the charts.


23 Comments on “Welcome to Cancerland”

  1. David Benbow says:

    Yikes! Right now 1200 miles away from you seems like a safe distance. Sorry you can’t have a do-over, but my guess is you’d like to have a do-over for the last two and a half years. Hang in there.

  2. Wow…what a h… of a day! Totally agree that your wait was inappropriate!

  3. Lauren says:

    from now on, just leave…I mean it, I tell them I didn’t survive cancer to waste two hours in a waiting room… 🙂

    Great read Nancy, hope a big ass cocktail was waiting when you came home..and piggy kisses…

  4. Drink2that says:

    Once again, I leave your posts with a newed sense of relativity. I’m sorry you had a shitty day and a really shitty couple of years. There is nothing I can say except rage away, girl and get it out. I hope you have a big glass of wine tonight and better day tomorrow. Cheers.

  5. Oh my goodness! I know, I know you were so at the end of your string in this post, but the way you write just makes me smile – it’s just so relatable. What a day you had! I suggest copious amounts of chocolate and strong tea. ~Catherine

  6. Whew…thank God I read your post. I feel so much better now. I thought that I had the worst day in the world today, when all along it was YOU! Many, many thanks!

  7. mmr says:

    One of the best warnings I got when first diagnosed, from another “survivor”, was: You will spend a lot of time waiting for doctors, but doctors will call you at the last minute and say “get here asap–even though you live an hour away from the med center–, they will move appointments around at the last minute, order last minute tests that must be done immediately, so be prepared that your life’s calendar will be ruled by them and not you”. To be fair, in the cancer world you understand that sometimes other people get a priority if they are in a more advanced stage, or say their surgery that is supposed to be 8 hours runs into 21 hours– I’m sure that puts a crimp in the plans for the rest of the surgical day. But someday I hope that my time is my own again. And let me know if you figure out how long this pissed off stage lasts? Think it has anything to do with the lovely hormone roller coaster that no one really warned us about after mastectomy? It’s so fun to go through menopause twice within a couple of years. Hey, maybe I’ll go for third time lucky. And maybe I’ll become a virgin again. Maybe that happens and the docs didn’t tell us about it.

  8. Barb Fernald says:

    As I read your blog I’m laughing out loud in the waiting room of the Subaru dealership while my car gets repaired. Probably pissing some people off. I’m extremely grateful that no-one has thought to turn on the TV.
    While I’ve not had cancer, I have certainly felt the level of pissed-off-edness that you’re describing! I’m laughing in recognition of myself. On a day like this I’m glad that “thought balloons” don’t appear above my head while I’m in the grocery store!

  9. jelebelle says:

    Good thing you have cancer card to use 😉 I can totally relate to the extreme passed off ness. Thanks as always for laying it out for us in such honest words. Hope you have better days soon. Xoxo

  10. elizabeth connolly says:

    THough i have not had cancer,i recognize the pissed off ness that i often experience in having to live without my husband since he died at 59 of pancreatic cancer. While i don’t live in anger, god help the person who encounters me on the road or in person on those days that the anger just overwhelms me. Always enjoy your telling it like it is. Love Bettyane

  11. I agree with you about those levels of cancer land relating to the five stages of grief. I’ve noticed that similarity time and time again. Anger can be a regular player in the unpredictability of life in cancer land. I’m sorry you had such a time of it the day of this appointment. I must say I did enjoy reading about it though. I guess when you’re pissed off, your creative juices get flowing! I always love a good rant, but I do hope you’re feeling better by now. Hope your knee is okay too.

  12. Alli says:

    I have reached the point in my life were I refuse to wait for long drawn out appointments. Having had worked in a clinic I am fully aware of the booking procedures and filling in every bit of open space with another name.. Years ago I had knee surgery, I was at the specialist office for a post surgical visit. I waited 3 hours in the reception area then another 2 in his examination office. Five hours in total. My entire afternoon was taken up waiting because of over booking. . The following week I was not going to have any of it repeated. Upon arrival I was informed I needed to wait the Dr was a *little* behind. This time I was prepared. I handed the receptionist a bill. My previous appointment lasted not more than 10 minutes in and out… – a breakdown of the expenses that affected me personally having spent five hours waiting for the Orthopedic Specialist.. I had a toddler – babysitting fees, loss of work hours, parking fees and of course because it was street parking i received a parking ticket my meter long expired and couldn’t go to feed the meter otherwise loose my chance at seeing the Dr not to mention the lunch I lost because I rushed…(lol) . She laughed I was dead on serious. I told her that I needed to be repaid because of their over booking patients which was no fault of mine I lost an entire afternoon which cost me more than this appointment. Waiting 5 hours was unacceptable.. Funny how my wait suddenly went from waiting in the que of long patients because sure enough it would have been another long afternoon.. I did see the Dr in a timely fashion… The thing is we don’t have to put up with this. We choose to and let Dr.s or who ever keep us waiting. When I see my Oncologist I tell them from the get-go I have things to do today I will not wait 3 hours or longer. I generally am in and out though there were a couple of times I did have to wait due to legitimate emergencies. If I’m told I will have to wait I re-book my appointment or tell them I don’t have the time to wait. kindly re-book when i can see him without difficulties. Our time is just as IMPORTANT!! Hope your days are better….

    Love Alli…..XX

  13. The pissed-off-edness would have started up again in full for me at being told I had to have another appointment to get test results instead of having them phoned to me!

    The waits are ridiculous. The downside is less time with a rushed Doctor who is pressured to keep to the packed schedule. I don’t see our doctor’s office experiences getting any better in 2013 either.

    I love reading other people’s rants! Rant on!

  14. LindaKR says:

    My oncologist is always prompt. One of our local PCP’s is always running late, the office now tells you to call and see how late he’s running so that you can time getting there, this works because we live in a small town, wouldn’t work in a city.

    Pissed – offed-ness – I know exactly what you mean. It’s almost irrational and like you’re watching yourself from the outside. I described it as wanting to stab everyone with forks, including myself – my daughters started joking and asking if they needed to hide the forks today. I found that taking an ativan mellowed it out.

    Loved your rant,

  15. Cate says:

    Thanks for sharing your pissed-off-edness with such eloquence and humor. It has helped me to embrace and accept my own inner Angry Elf and very well may have saved me hundreds of dollars in psychotherapy session specialist co-pays.

  16. […] Welcome to Cancerland → […]

  17. Editor says:

    Reblogged this on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  18. Marie says:

    Loved reading this.. so clever..and so true!

  19. Kay Harold says:

    Thank you for this! I guess I’m not the raving lunatic my surgeon and next three oncologists suggested I had become. I bristled when I was not given a variety of treatment options and they didn’t want to discuss alternatives to the slash, poison, and burn I was being offered. I have a degree as a Medical Technologist and a Master’s degree as a medical librarian. When I pulled out peer reviewed articles that suggested their treatment was over treatment, there was a lot of tisk-tisking, which only served to increase my anger. I absolutely hate the waiting in the oncologist’s office. I know there are going to be some unpredictable emergencies, but every stinking time? I learned a lesson to NEVER, EVER have a 9:00 a.m. appointment on a Monday morning. I understand bringing one person with you to your appointment but you don’t have to bring your whole extended family, especially if one of them is coughing or smells like stale cigarette smoke. I do not have chemo but I get very anxious when I see people coming in to be poisoned up to the last hours of their life. From my years in a medical laboratory, I know doctor’s will keep pumping in the poison as long as they are getting paid. It makes me angry that doctors would rather overtreat than have an honest conversation. Some people like their oncologist but I haven’t found one (I’m on the 4th) that gives me any feeling of confidence and I am get generally creeped out my their personalities. After reading your post, I think I understand that we are not all the “good girls” that our doctors tell us to be. I just wish I would have found others with those same feelings sooner and that some days it is ok to be mad as hell!

  20. Renn says:

    A most excellent post! And I hear you on the anger button. Mine is often poised for pushing these days too.

  21. […] Welcome to Cancerland, the Pink Underbelly has written a clever, witty and oh so true observation of the stages we go through on our cancer […]

  22. Susan says:

    I can so relate to your anger at having to wait a ridiculous amount of time for the onc and a blood test. First they should have told you if they needed the other oncologists blood test and they should have taken your blood immediately with preliminary answers and then they send it out for further tests.I have been very lucky with my oncologist although she left her practice, but I love my new one. I spent a lot of time talking with other people and I have a friend that is in the same office doing chemo in the new one.
    I was willing but annoyed to wait for a very famous breast surgeon. Although it used to annoy me his reputation was solid and he spared me a late finding of a recurrence that only showed on an MRI biopsy. He was persistent even though it didn’t show up on a mammogram or when he tried to biopsy it on an ultrasound and finally ordered an MRI biopsy-there it was found early enough not to be mets. So he was worth it. You have to go with your intuition on the reputation of the onc- someone who just can’t keep their schedule straight and wasn’t the most incredible referal is not worth it. Otherwise I check emails and work on my phone or portable ipad that I am lucky to have while I wait if they are worth waiting for.
    The anger part is part of the process and that you can’t get around. So glad you have this blog and I found it from Marie’s round-up!

  23. I just love your pissed-offedness! Such an honest blog saying exactly how it is and what it’s really like. I was cheering you on in your fantasy that included you throwing the stool through the window and laughing out loud. I hate having breast cancer too. I loathe the way we are expected to become passively gracious about things that are simply unacceptable. I think the fight and the passion and the anger are crucial to us getting through this, but it’s still just pants. Good luck with all your treatment and here’s hoping for a much nicer 2013 for you.


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