“Oxycodone, Lorazepam, Dexamethasone, Zofran….”
I felt like I was reading my own medical chart. But it wasn’t my chart. It was hers. They told me to take those same drugs too.
I was just like Mama.
We were diagnosed with breast cancer at the same age. We didn’t have the same kind of breast cancer. The engines driving their growth took a different fuel. Yet our choices for treatment, decades apart in medical advancement, were remarkably similar. We both gambled. We both prayed.
She lived. 16 ½ more years she lived.
And then it was 2007 and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I looked through her papers from that time. It all starts out so innocently. “Patient presents as a very pleasant female who is being seen for further evaluation……” There’s a little pain, a symptom. There’s always a reason for it. It’s always something else.
And then it’s not something else.
I looked through her papers and recognized how it began. My ovarian ultrasound told me I was premenopausal. Hers told her that, simply, she was postmenopausal. My CT scan couldn’t find any reason why my hip should be hurting. But hers, only one week after her clear ultrasound, declared the finding of multiple masses consistent with metastatic disease of uncertain etiology.
I looked through her papers and saw the system. I knew the insurance codes in her bills. I knew eligible coverage limits and abnormal biopsy results and taxane side effects. I read about the nutritionist's recommendations. I saw how long it takes to have a walker delivered. I found out about the price of morphine. Her papers showed me the progression. Her papers told me how it ended.
The insurance company sent her a certificate 3 weeks after she had died on October 6th. Dear Kathryn, the cancellation date of your coverage is effective October 6th. Please keep this certificate of coverage as required by federal law. Kathryn, we thank you for choosing our insurance company for all of your insurance needs.
I sat there on the worn out carpet at the top of my stairs, surrounded by her ovarian cancer bills, surrounded by her second fight with cancer. My hip still hurt. I was panicking. Was I looking at my future? Was I going to be just like Mama?
It’s clear, my oncologist said in 2015, there is something going on here. Every genetic test he ordered, every one available, said otherwise. My fancy genetics doctor is certain there’s a genetic component we haven’t found yet, one we don’t know how to test for yet. After all, he said, when your mom got her breast cancer, we didn’t even know your type of breast cancer existed. Years later, by the time your mom got ovarian cancer, we finally knew about your type of breast cancer. Every year there’s progress, he said. Every year.
I wondered if progress would ever stop my panic. I wondered if progress would ever give me peace of mind. I wondered if progress would ever catch up to me.
It took me almost an hour but I shredded her papers. Oh, I kept a few of the important ones. I kept the insurance certificate. It was required by federal law, after all.
But I shredded the rest. I shredded them and I… made… it… all… go… away…
It felt good. It felt like progress.