Thursday, May 1, 2008
Plato, You Were One Smart Dude.
"The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated." ~Plato
Once upon a time there was a 24 year old girl who didn't feel right. She didn't know why, she didn't know how to explain it and she didn't know what to do about it.
Her back hurt, but she blamed it on the children sized chairs she sat on when she student taught. She felt bloated, but blamed it on the cookies. She exercised, but her pants still didn't fit. She felt beaten down and tired, just like the rest of the world. Or so she thought.
Irritable bowl syndrome..take some of these pills, her family doctor said. She threw the prescription out when she got home. Her bowl was not irritated. She was what was irratated.
Fast foward to a year later...
She was graduating college, she was engaged, she had to get a good job, she cried too much, she was tired, she had a thesis paper to write. It was just stress, life, living, that's what it was. There was nothing wrong. Or so she hoped.
She was wrong. That she is me.
There is so much for me to say about my cancer. Scary stories, funny stories, my thoughts, my feelings...but I couldn't tell you anything about it, if it weren't for a very special soldier who battled my cancer and won. My oncologist, Dr. Michael Pearl.
I know what your thinking, oh, he saved your life Jennifer, of course you think he's special. But it's not like that. Yes, he saved my life. But he also began the process of saving my soul.
I was young. A people pleaser, a good kid. I listened to my parents. I didn't do "bad" things. I ate my vegetables. I didn't eat candy.
I was a good girl, and on the outside I seemed ok. On the inside, however, I was dying. And not just because of cancer.
I had spent the first 24 years of my life smiling for the rest of the world, but I never smiled for myself.
And then came cancer.
And then came the doctors.
Enter doctor #1- A furocious woman, with big fangs and a witches smile. She was evil in the Wizard of Oz sort of way. She told me she was calling my mother because she couldn't understand how no one had noticed my protruding stomach. I had to be hiding something. Oh, but before I left, I should make sure I paid at the front desk.
Doctor #2- He tells me something is wrong. Very wrong. I needed a catscan. It was the day before the 4th of July but he promised he would give me the results that day.
And then he went away for the weekend and was un-reachable.
Doctor #3- A vascular doctor who had to be called in to put in the IV for the catscan. This man still haunts me because he had to be the cruelest doctor ever. He stopped the catscan midway and came out to me so that we could have a little chat. He told me that if this was my way of having an abortion, I should just tell him right then, before the catscan. I wanted to die right there. I really did. At my scariest moment, this demon comes in the room with his big bug eyes and scaly skin and makes me feel ugly.
And he doesn't stop there. After he looks at the scan, he apologizes before we go out to my family. He gives me the apology in a "let's keep what I said quiet", kind of way.
Then he heads out to the waiting room and announces to the audience, I mean the entire waiting room, don't worry about her fertility, she will be lucky if she lives and makes it long enough to not have children.
Doctor #4- A gynocologist who doesn't have fangs, but doesn't have a smile either. He looks like he should be singing on a cruise ship, not giving me an internal. He tells me to prepare myself for people. People will have questions. People will say things. Ignore what they say. Be calm.
What people? What things? What the hell is wrong with me???
And that is where the ugly doctor story ends.
It ends the moment the gynocologist says, I am sending you over to Stony Brook. There is a mild mannered oncologist who I think will be able to help you. I think you'll like him.
Help me? It's not like I can't reach the cereal in the food store, Mr. This is my life we are talking about here.
Enter Dr. Pearl. My Mom whispers to me, he looks too young to be a doctor. I think, he doesn't have horns. I think he smiled. His skin isn't green and slimy. I don't care if he's young.
He sat down with us. He talked to us. He looked at me, not just the catscan results. He smiled. He voice was soft. He was nice to my mother. And he was concerned about my fertility. And that in itself, gave me hope.
I was scared. Scared for my Mom more than for myself. Everyone else would be fine, but not my Mom.
I knew if anything happened to me, something would happen to her. And Dr. Pearl was so good to Mom. And therefore, good to me.
He was nice to everyone. He shook hands, he gave kisses. He talked to my family downstairs in the cafeteria before the surgery(and apparently was eating a roll because I got a play by play afterwards).
He touched my toes. I know that sounds weird. But before I went in for surgery he came over and spoke to me. He smiled and seemed so calm. And that was comforting. He asked me about a wedding I had just gone to. He said, I'll see you in a little while. And before he left, he touched my toes. And I will never forget that moment, because it made me feel safe.
I'll save the surgery story for another blog.
I need room on this blog for a letter I should have written almost 12 years ago.
Dear Dr. Pearl,
For over 10 years I've thought about sending you a thank you card, but it always seemed so awkward. What would I say? Thank you for saving me? Because I'm sure I wouldn't be here if I had not found you. Thank you for treating my Mom like a mother, in fear of losing her child. Not just like a patient's mother. Thank you for your smile. A smile that told me I would be ok. For making scary office visits, less scary.
I could have surely wrote those things. God knows I mean them. But there was always something missing. Until now.
Thank you Dr. Pearl, for saving my soul. I was scared girl when I met you. Scared of everything. Then you saved me. You did not just remove a 13 pound tumor from my body. You took with you 13 pds of anxiety that had built up inside of me over my lifetime.
The day you took away the tumor, my life changed. I changed. And I'm not talking about my jeans fitting either.
I started to say what I felt inside. I started to make choices. I was less fearful. I cared less about silly things. I started caring about me. Not in a selfish way, but in a good way.
The past decade has brought me many twists and turns. Most, I could have never predicted when I walked into your office that July. This chick has lots of stories. I swear I could have been on Jerry Springer at one point. But one part of my life stayed stable. You.
And you are the reason I was able to overcome a lot of those road blocks. You were the soul starter. And without you, I would have died, cancer or not.
To my family, you are a hero. A superman. Superhuman.
To me, you are brilliant. You didn't just cure the cancer. You cured the scared, lonely girl who was looking for a different life. And you helped me to find the happy life I have today.
I don't know how you do it. And I'm sure you get lots of these letters, as I know you have a fan club. I hear the ladies talking. They talk about your kindness. Your warming smile. Your caring heart. Oh, and some talk about the fact that you still like too young to be a doctor.
Just two weeks ago, I met a collegue of yours who told me my oncologist has a great sense of humor. Now, tell me, how many people can say that about their oncologist?
When, I read that you were one of Long Island's top doctors, I wasn't suprised. I just wish Newsday would have wrote me for a nomination.
Once upon a time there was a girl who didn't feel right. And there was a doctor who saved her body and her soul.
Dr. Pearl, I am forever grateful for you,