Thursday, April 10, 2014

Supernatural or Coincidence

The drugs Perjeta and Herceptin are a wonderful combination in terms of side-effects. I am hopeful this combination will last for some time because I really feel quite well in all things cancer related. Years would be ideal. I have heard for some people, this is their reality.  Maybe it will be for me too.

Supernatural or Coincidence?
In the last two weeks I have had two interesting experiences that caused me to ponder, as I often do, the “whys” of the world. For me, there is either a scientific explanation for the reason something happened or there is no reason at all – it just happened.

I don’t believe in anything supernatural. Well . . . except the supernatural event that made those three guys on the left so darn appealing.  Wait a minute . . . it's not supernatural – it's in their genes.  For those of you who don't know who those guys are, they are actors from a TV show called Supernatural.

Black holes I cannot explain.  My 10-year-old daughter (oops, April 6th she turned 11) can explain it and so can an astrophysicist.  Even though I can’t explain it, I know there is science behind a black hole's creation. It is not supernatural. 

There are some medical events that seem supernatural.  Why does one person survive but someone else with the same treatment and seemingly the same cancer does not.  I would even refer to those instances as miracles although really they are not.  There is a scientific reason found in a cell’s biology. It is not supernatural.                            

The two events that happened to me recently made me pause, for just a brief second, and think -- hmm, that’s interesting. When events happen that seem so out-of-the-ordinary, I can understand how someone might believe a supernatural intervention must have caused it to happen. But, I am too logical. My brain brought me back to my reality that explains these events as nothing other than pure coincidence – happenstance.

One week and three days ago I received flowers.  One week and four days ago I answered my cell phone even though the number was unknown to me, not something I usually do.  The person on the other end said, “You may not remember me”.  Though I had not seen this person since maybe as long ago as 2005, I remembered him immediately. 

On April 1st it had been one year since I heard my oncologist give me the news that my disease had progressed beyond the breast.  I was receiving the call because word of my illness was reaching people I have not seen in years.  That is pretty amazing really because I don’t go out that much.  I assume someone must have seen me in some store wearing my head covering which doesn’t really conceal what is happening to me.  

Earlier in the day that I received the phone call, my mind had wandered back to the years that I was a member of a dog club, a dog club with individuals that taught me so much about training dogs.  I was a member for 5 years, taught some classes and was on the club’s board as their secretary for 3 of those years.  I had such a great deal of fun training my rescued border collie.  At 8 weeks of age that bundle of fur and I became a team.  Jet and I eventually entered 7 agility competitions and came home with 6 first place blue ribbons. But, then my children became heavily involved in extra-curricular activities so I resigned from my volunteer work with the club.

There are a few not so great memories too. Jet, my canine partner, had some fear aggression issues toward some dogs. His aggression would be a quick lunge toward a dog, and then it would be over. I felt like it made people uncomfortable to bring their dogs around me for fear that the lunge could turn into something far greater -- understandably so. It could have, if not for human intervention.  This was a source of frustration and sadness for me. In Jet’s youth we owned two other dogs so it was possible for him to experience social harmony with other canines. This was again proven over the years with our adoption of 4 other dogs. His unfriendly behavior toward some dogs did not offer me complete social harmony with the club, though.  I always had to be aware of what he was doing. 

As I thought about the club, I also remembered an incident that occurred with one of the members and his dog.  I thought about what I might have said differently to some of the members in that person’s defense. His dog had misbehaved, he reacted.  I certainly was no stranger to having a dog that misbehaved. A few hours later the phone call came.  What a surprise! It was the person I had been thinking about. It was so good to hear that he was doing well along with other members that were still part of the group.  Though this event did seem to exhibit supernatural tendencies with an out-of-the-blue phone call from someone I was just thinking about that I haven’t seen in years.  But it wasn’t, nope, just a simple random coincidence.

Then today, in the waiting area at UNC hospitals, I was forced to sit in a seat I would not otherwise have placed myself simply because I like to sit in places away from other people.  The only seat available was between a woman and a man.  As I sat down the man’s face became familiar to me.  I recognized him immediately. At our initial meeting, I had a conversation with his wife, but today I spoke only to him since she happened to stay at home on this day. In my post of July 29th, 2013, I referred to his wife as the Godly woman because she spoke mostly of how good God is.  Rengate Austin, I discovered, is doing very well. We had a great conversation only to be ended by the summoning of him to an infusion chair.  I am pretty confident he didn't remember me, but I don't care. It was just nice to see and hear that another cancer patient was doing well in this path in life we did not expect to take. As we talked, he said that we are no different than anyone else in this world because the end result is the same.  We all die.  No guarantees of tomorrows for anyone.  I agreed.  I also learned that he is still in the same clinical trial that he had begun when I first met him. He is paving the way for a new treatment for some lung cancer patients.  Was this a supernatural encounter – an encounter that put this person in the same place as me on this particular day with only one seat available for me to sit in? Honestly, the odds of this event occurring are not very good.  But, no, it was just another simple coincidence. 

My pulmonologist told me just last week when I saw him for my allergy symptoms that when he graduated from college there were 6 different types of lung cancer. Now, there are many many more. That is why it is so difficult to find a cure for any type of cancer.  So many cancers; so many subtypes; so complicated . . .

The Infusion
Once a chair was available for me, it still took a while for the infusion to actually take place.  I was weighed, asked if any of my medicines had changed, my port was accessed, blood drawn, medicines ordered, and food, drink and a warm blanket offered and provided. Today a new question was asked.  Do you feel safe in your home?  I learned that the staff is now required to ask each patient this every time they are seen at the hospital.  That question will be asked along with have you ever smoked?  I was told by a nurse once that the smoking question was asked for governmental statistics.  Why?, she didn't know.  Of course I don't want domestic violence in anyone's home, but somehow such a question seems odd - just a little artificial- or perhaps, I thought, the people running the government must be trying to make sure their programs continue to be operational. In the future who knows what questions will be asked; questions such as are you practicing safe sex, are you eating 2 servings of vegetables each day, do you wear sunscreen when in the sun, do you have guns in your home (my kids’ pediatrician asked that one), and finally do you have alcohol in your home? Well, we have a program for that. Could more questions soon be coming my way before my cancer treatment can even begin?  I know people need or want help for variety of reasons.  A hospital can feel safe, but is this question or better yet is the service necessary?  Aren't programs already available to help in these situations? A scared person could reach out for help and social services could be called without actually having to ask the question. What would the hospital do anyway if I had said No, I do not feel safe?

These questions swirling around in my mind prompted me to ask my nurse.  She was happy to explain.  Apparently it has been protocol to ask all in-house patients this question. Now that the in-house and out-of-house patient clinics are using the same electronic records system, all patients are now asked that question including me, an out-patient. If someone said yes to the question then Beakon would be called. At first I thought Beakon might be the government agency I referred to earlier. The internet educated me.  Beakon is a service provided by UNC Hospitals. They would be called and would come and evaluate what kind of threat the person was experiencing. 

After digesting the nurse’s comment about family members being asked to leave so the person could respond without any inhibition, I began to realize that maybe the abuser, never wanting the secret of what they are doing to be known, may not ever let the person being abused go out into society alone. The hospital might be the first and only opportunity that someone could ask for help. Other questions kept entering my mind.  What are the statistics of how many people are actually helped by this service?  And, once Beakon is called, do they bill your insurance for the service?  Also, if the threat is severe enough, do they immediately prevent you from going home when released?  Is the hospital now a safe-house for people trying to get away from domestic violence?  Is this another way for the hospital to dig into your pockets or at least your insurance company’s or is it a service provided for free by the hospital?  Well, nothing is free. I did see on the UNC Hospitals website that Beakon accepts donations so maybe the money to run the program does not come directly from the people in need of help. But if my treatments are higher than they should cost because it is helping to fund the programs offered by the hospital then that is the point where I say enough is enough. I am not against people looking for ways to make money nor am I against my giving monetary donations, but I don't want to pay for it unless I know about it. Hopefully it is simply a great service that is needed and used by many to prevent abuse and to help people of domestic violence.   

So there you have it.  Infusion #17 is history!
Next time will be scan review time. 

Oh, and I also started going without a head cover around the house.  Eyelashes are starting to appear too, very thin tiny little hairs though.  I can’t wait to put on mascara again.  No eyelashes -- not a good look for me. 

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