A glimpse into the world of cancer

My phone rang unexpectedly yesterday morning. “My name is Graham, and I’m calling to set up your oncology appointment,” the caller said. I was confused. “Do you know why?” I asked. “I don’t have cancer.” He had no answer.

I wondered whether there was still a mix-up over my most recent MRI, so I left a couple of voicemails. My regular doc called back. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’d asked them not to make the appointment until you and I had had a chance to talk.”

My last MRI had shown enlarged lymph nodes. “It could be an infection,” she said. “But I’d like to play it safe and rule out anything else.” Like lymphoma, for instance.

That’s how 24 hours later, I ended up sitting among a small crowd of pale, frail-looking people. There was no small-talk; no one met my gaze.

I was ushered into a small cubicle to talk to a “financial counselor.” She explained that my insurance may not cover everything, and said there would be a $20 co-pay for each visit. I felt uneasy at the prospect of having a new line item in my monthly budget.

Then I met with the oncologist. He was wonderful. He addressed my questions and concerns. And to my relief, he didn’t seem too concerned. “But I’d like to play it safe,” he said. He ordered an abbreviated blood panel and a full-body CT.

I left his office with two large bottles of barium contrast and a long list of instructions. I hope the contrast tastes better than it looks. (I’ll give a full report—with suggested side dishes and recommended wine pairings—on Friday.)

In the meantime, I’m back to my now-familiar routine of trying to focus on today, of trying to steer my thoughts toward the things I can control.

Even a small glimpse into the world of cancer was closer than I ever wanted to get.

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