How a routine doctor visit saved my life

By Jessica de la Morena (Spain)

I have written previously about my diagnosis and how it changed my perspective on community.

My head was buzzing as I walked out of the doctor’s office that day. I felt completely disoriented and confused, and as I sat in my car listening to the engine, I realized I didn’t even know where I was going. I felt like my body was foreign to me, as if I was watching from outside of myself in a horror film. It was the last thing I could expect in a routine checkup, but it was thanks to being rigorous about having yearly appointments that this issue had been identified, potentially in time to do something about it.

After the biopsy, my doctor hugged me and calmly explained to me that the results of the biopsy would allow us to identify the cancer cells, and I listened intently but most things didn´t register. The next day I found myself sitting in the same office again, this time much more exhausted from lack of sleep, seeing the test results that concluded that I needed another test. At this time, I learned something about medicine that had never occurred to me: doctors don´t have all the answers. Until this moment, I had been accustomed to going to the doctor and them knowing what was wrong with me and what I needed to do. But this situation was entirely different. That’s when I realized we were at the onset of something similar to a true crime investigation, where I would be doing many tests and scans that would serve as evidence to understand what was happening in the depths of my body.

My Sherlock Holmes mode switched on, as I realized that this investigation would not be concluded by one test or one doctor, and that the more expert eyeballs we have on it, the better. I started to research online, and as soon as I landed on the first website, I realized what a huge mistake it was. I was bombarded with information about high mortality rates and a long list of side effects of the proposed treatments, and my mindset immediately shifted from constructive problem solving to petrifying fear. I had to stop in my tracks and take response-ability of the situation, and see I had two choices: I could choose to see the information in a different light, or I could filter my information sources to ensure that I could keep a constructive and positive outlook. It was too much to ask of myself to see all that information and not react to it due to how terrified I was, so I decided on the latter.

I started reaching out to my community to find others who might have had similar experiences. I searched out people who were constructive and had uplifting stories to share, as well as people who might know of specialists with specific knowledge in this field. Some dear friends in New York City put me in touch with a doctor specializing in cases like mine, and I found myself calling him at 1 in the morning Madrid time. He spent an hour with me on the phone, explaining in more detail the protocol in the United States for these cases, as well as patiently answering all of the questions that had come up throughout the afternoon. He was so encouraging and positive about the effectiveness of the treatments that I hung up the call exhausted but somewhat relieved.

And thus began a weeklong hard-core investigation, with many twists and turns in the plot, as my oncologist (Dr. J.) pieced together the results of the tests I had taken already and prescribed new tests. Each new test was scary in itself, but I tried to think of myself as a researcher investigating first-hand what each of those tests were all about, asking the technicians questions to understand what each step was and how it worked. Then, I would meet daily with my doctors, and I would speak nightly with my doctor in NYC (Dr. V.). Dr. V. put in me touch with the head of the specialized program in another major hospital in New York, who reached out to an oncologist in Madrid (Dr. A.) who was involved with other doctors in Houston who had a grant to study cases like mine. I had a 3-hour long appointment with Dr. A., during which we reviewed every little detail of my case, helping me better understand what was happening to me.

A week later, we had a diagnosis that we all agreed upon and my treatment plan was defined and begun. I quickly started experiencing the side effects, and though I had purposely not wanted to know much about them, so as to not preempt any discomfort, I knew enough not to be taken by surprise. In retrospect, I am very glad to have not inquired too much about them as I would have probably stressed a lot about it beforehand. I have learned that it is much more practical to face something head on without anticipating pain or difficulty, and in that way you only experience it once. Usually, things are not like we imagine them anyway.

In some cases, the side effects were quite severe and I needed blood transfusions and shots that induced my bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. I will admit that this journey was really arduous physically and thus as well emotionally, but I tried to make the most of each opportunity that it brought. For instance, I would take my favorite feather pillow from home to the hospital, and I would try to nap as much as I could and read an uplifting book. I also would chat with the amazing nurses at the oncology day hospital, who were so caring and always had a big smile to offer. Dr. J. would always see me to kick off the treatment, reviewing my bloodwork and sending me off with lots of encouragement. Dr. V. would send me daily text messages checking in and cheering me on, and Dr. A. would email me regularly to check up on me. And this is how my doctors and nurses truly became a part of my community.

I have continued to be in touch with all of these new members of my community, and I even got to meet Dr. V. in NYC and take him out to brunch! It was so great to meet him in person and have the opportunity to thank him personally for all his support. I am eternally grateful for the amazing medical support that I received during my illness, and I am so lucky to have had them show up in my life as heroes. They have inspired me to want to show up for others and share my story.

I encourage you to share your story with others and add the #uarethehero hashtags and tag @u_are_the_hero on Instagram. Also, please grow our movement by sharing my account with your network so that we can build a supportive and healing community.

And I’d love to ask – how have doctors really showed up for you in your journey? What surprised you about your doctors?

Tell me and others about it as this openness supports us all on our journeys. In helping others, YOU can also be the hero for them.

I also must use this opportunity to remind you to please go for your routine doctor visit. I know it’s scary but catching an illness early on can be pivotal in finding possible medical treatments for it. Think of your appointment as a true act of self love.

I’m sending you much strength and love, and a reminder that no matter your journey you are not alone. And oftentimes the hero you are searching for has been within you the whole time.

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