Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Life Sentence

"Think of it as a disease, like diabetes, that you live with, die with, but not die of." Thus spoke Sunita Nasta, MD, Non-/Hodgkins Oncology Specialist, and my newest physician caregiver. Never was a diagnosis better received. In short, I got a life sentence, a long one (that's me on the left, walking the white llama). And it was a long time coming. At various times, I amped up my conversations with God and evaluated my life, dispassionately, to learn that by my standards I had lived well. Now the challenge might become dying well. Was I up to it.

And that's where the hand of God, the work of faith and prayer, serendipitous intervention, or just ol
d-fashioned luck plays its hand. Call it as you see it, but for me, it was a Padre Pio miracle.

Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Grade 2, Stage 3

That's what I have. You can conduct online research, and I did rigorously, but I quickly discovered that the Internet fortunately is still not as smart as my specialists at Perelman Center for Advanced Studies. Every aspect of my treatment impressed and reinforced my decision to choose the University of Pennsylvania Health System

Here's why.
  1. When was the last time a physician asked you how you prefer to learn? Beginning with Tahamtan Ahmadi, MD, Oncolocy Fellow (past residency and now specializing), I was given the preference of medical discovery in my learning style. As a teacher, I totally understand the value of pitching to a learning modality, but was surprised to find that level of delivery in the medical field. Bravo!
  2. "Would you like me to deliver my spiel, or would you prefer to ask me your questions first"? What a tag team! Being given choices counts with me, since I have grown up surrounded by specialty physicians in my neighborhood. Finding that same compasssion and concern, especially at a large facility in a larger city exceeded my expectations as Dr. Nasta greeted my husband and me as treatment sharers. Despite the expansiveness of the facility, I felt like I had returned to my childhood roots, where you could go next door and have tea, treatment, wonderful conversations, and confidence in your returning wellness.
  3. Does your treatment facility have state-of-the art equipment? Why be referred to a cancer center that has the best diagnostic and treatment equipment when you can begin beating back cancer from the beginning by betting with the best.
  4. What awards and accolades has your treatment center achieved? Is it wrong to want the best. Cancer care is a competitive industry and each strong facility has a piece of the market share. So, for me it comes down to ratings, rankings, research, and survivorship. And the doctors.
  5. Are your doctors at the top of their specialty? Don't be a passenger in your life; be the bulldozer. Make your choices carefully, and then make sure the fit is good. Mine are, and in working toward longevity, that means everything.
  6. Is your cancer center connected to a University Medical School? Field research and clinical trials are important to my decision-making. If need be, I will be a risk-taker. When life is the endgame, I want to be on the cutting edge, before the edge is cut. And should all else fail, I want to be positioned in a place that can look at advanced medicine alternatives.
Like so many people, my father was not so lucky. He did not get a life sentence, but we did manage to give him two years he might not have lived had I not done research at UPenn's biomedical library. Throughout my life, my father was my anchor, a strict but loving parent, someone I would forever miss. As I watched his life wane, I knew that should my time come when I would have to beat cancer back, I would learn from the choices he did not make.

I think I have. But then, I got a life sentence.

Special thanks to Donna Bott van Sickle for her artistry in transforming memories to the digital landscape, and to my brother, David, a carbon copy of Dad, for sending faces of family my way.

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