about today's oncology appointment


This morning I'm sitting in my p.j.'s staring at my laptop with an online survey staring back at me. I'm seeing a new oncologist today for my every-6-month checkup. (Because of insurance issues I had to transfer to a new one.)  Before the appointment, I have to answer a tediously-long health survey.

How old were you when you were diagnosed with cancer for the first time? 27

What of the following have you had? (check all that apply)  I check them all.

Fine needle aspiration

Core biopsy



PET scan




Genetic testing



Two questions into the survey, I'm getting tired.  No, not tired.  Weary.

And then, weepy.

The questions continue.

Have you ever been pregnant?  No.

Do you want to have a baby?   The cursor blinks at me, daring me to choose.  Yes or No.  There is no third option.

In the last seven days, how many of the following have you had? (check all that apply.) Once again, I check them all.


Joint pain

Hot flashes



The questions continue.

 When you take a shower, can you wash your back?  The options are Yes or No.  I wish there was an "I'm not Gumby but I have a loofah-on-a-stick" answer, just to break the tension.

When you get our of the shower, can you dry off your body?

      Can you shampoo all of your hair?

      Can you stand up?

      Can you walk a mile?

      Can you run fast enough to catch a bus? (once again, I want a third option-- because seriously, how fast is that bus going?)

Can you carry a bag of groceries?

      Can you steer a car?

The questions are ridiculous on one level -- is my oncologist going to come shampoo my hair if I answer "No"?

And the questions about groceries and walking and driving make me grateful, because during chemo, I would've answered no.


Before my oncologist sees me today, all he'll know about me is this survey, and the information in my medical records.  The dates, the procedures, the pathology reports, the number of radiation sessions, the names of all the drugs I've been given. 

He'll know my gender, my age, my name, my address, my occupation, my marital status, the serial number of my breast implants, the dates I was on partial disability because of profound fatigue.

But there's so much he won't know.  

He'll know everything about me, but he won't know me.

He won't know how terrified I was the day I got my cancer diagnosis.  He won't know the choking panic I felt the first time I saw my pathology report.  Sarah Thebarge, Age 27, Ductal Carcinoma.  

He won't know how many streaks of mascara stained my boyfriend's white collared shirt as he held me in the doctor's office that day -- or the crushing grief I felt when that same man, half-way through my chemo treatments, suddenly walked away.

He won't know about the prayer meetings people had in my apartment the night of my diagnosis, and the night before my mastectomy.  He won't know about my friend Don who brought his guitar to play for me when I was flat on my back after the surgery, shaking with indescribable pain, or my friend Rajah who brought me french fries and a Diet Coke when I was septic in the ER from a massive infection, or my friend Libby who took the train from Manhattan to New Haven to visit me - when she was battling cancer herself, and died of it soon after that visit.

He won't know about my parents driving 1,000 miles in the middle of the night to get to me when I was on the brink of death.  He won't know about my mom sleeping on a mat next to my bed in my tiny studio apartment for six months while I was going through treatments.  He won't know how kind my nurses were to me. He won't know about my favorite oncologist who came out to the waiting room himself to get be before my first chemo treatment, putting his arm around my shoulders as he led me to the chemo chair as if to say, "I'm here.  It's going to be okay."

He won't know how hard I tried.

How hard I fought.

How hard I'm fighting now.


This morning, I will be the patient.  I will be a diagnosis.  I will be numbers and drug names and procedures and dates and metrics.

This afternoon, I will go to clinic to work the late shift, and I will be the provider.

I'm reminded today in a new and deeper way that all of us -- no matter what we've gone through and what we're dealing with now -- are more than labels and diagnoses and symptoms and dates. 

We're experiences. We're emotions.  We're inner turmoil and inner victories that no one ever sees.  We're confident and we're scared, hopeful and afraid.

We're inextricably tied to other people's stories, to other people's pain.

And we're all deserving of someone who finds us in the midst of it all and shows us compassion and mercy and love, putting their arm around us as if to say, "I'm here.  It's going to be okay."