As you may or may not know, I have taken on a lot of stuff lately. In the last few years, I beat cancer, nursed my husband back to health after his heart attack, worked without pay, wrote some books ( buy some will ya?), became my own office manager, became my husband’s office manager, fired staff, hired staff, completely switched billing companies, expanded social media, started a lecture series, started a chemo support group…..whew. I think the list keeps going even after that. It’s a lot. I get it. Most people who foolishly ask me how’s it goin, may or may not want to actually know, but I tell them anyway! Then they get a little stunned. They wonder how I am not an overwhelmed hot mess. I tell them no, I’m actually not. I am enjoying it. Ok, that sounds crazy right? But let’s look at it this way. That is a ton of stuff for one person, I agree, but none of it is bad stuff. My uber positive spin on life right now makes me respond,” ya know, I think it’s the universe telling me that I am finally health enough to take on even more stuff!” Then they give me a weird look and kind of nervously laugh. I go on to explain that I believe in signs and a purpose to just about everything. Whether that thinking is religiously based, spiritually based, or magic based, it doesn’t matter. It only matters if it gets you motivated. Well all these things that have happened have only strengthened my sense of purpose. I like taking care of things. I love how the whole culture of my office has changed. Everyone is happy. Everyone falls over themselves to help each other. We all look forward to going to work every day. I couldn’t possibly have it better and I’m saying that even though we are still regaining economic strength with the new billing company and I am not consistently getting paid. I am there because I love it and I appreciate my whole work gang! They pay attention. They actually watch me for signs of burnout like I watch them…unprompted! It’s amazing. I wanna keep that going as long as I can. It’s a team effort. Being a good leader also means recognizing the skills of everyone around you. I only hope everyone can have a work environment like mine. You can, but you gotta work for it.
Man oh man it has been quite the two years. I imagine that is a tagline that applies to millions at this point. It’s not that I am considering myself anything special but my gosh, just how much of a shit show are we all supposed to endure? Is there no end? What is the purpose? Are we being punished? I don’t understand.
Let me break it down for you. In the last two years, there has been an ongoing pandemic, businesses have been shut down, people have died, my daughters have had some major issues, I got cancer, and now my husband is having open heart surgery. I am not in a competition with anyone or anything but sheesh, it feels like a lot. I am not a person to complain per se but after awhile, even I am not immune to the occasional breakdown and thoughts of why me and why us? I start asking stupid questions like Does the universe hate me? Is this some kind of karmic retribution? Why can’t I make sense of this?
Then, I stop a minute, take a breath and try to calm myself. I realize that I am asking the wrong questions. All I am doing is making myself crazy trying to find an explanation or blame. This only leads to frustration, confusion, and anger. It won’t get me anywhere. At some point, I need to let it go and concentrate on moving forward and learning from what has happened. Otherwise, more bad things are bound to happen if I get stuck in a vicious cycle of negativity. That negativity will do nothing but drive more bad decisions and lead to further bad outcomes. I am not saying that we are not allowed to be human. We are allowed to feel sorry for ourselves and have boohoo moments. We just can’t let the boohoo moments define us.
Today’s the day. Today I go for excisional biopsy of the lymph nodes around my neck so they can study it and determine if I have ” the good kind” of lymphoma, Hodgkins, or the aggressive kind, diffuse large B Cell Non-Hodgkins. Good kind? Bad kind? I am just not sure what to root for here. Isn’t all cancer “the bad kind?” My doctor also told me with a smile that he has never lost a patient with Hodgkins. Awesome! But wait! What about Non-Hodgkins patients? He meant to be reassuring. Instead of taking that as good news, I immediately panicked that he had somehow over bragged to the universe and karmic retribution had to be on it’s way.
Sorry, I couldn’t help a bit of sarcasm there. I know what the doctors mean. One kind has really high cure rates and one not so high and tougher to get through. Yes. Of course I understand. However, it is tough for a patient to embrace the clinical perspective right after hearing a diagnosis. Sometimes they just need a minute to try to start processing before they are able to realize whether they are actually “luckier ” than they thought or not. The moment you hear the words “we think you have cancer”, everything kind of stops. No other words have a chance to register. That dirty C word just hammers in your ears like an obnoxious bell and your mind starts racing. You need to just let it sit a minute before you start comparing stats and trying to tell them how to think about it. I know this first hand. I do it too as a doctor. I am always trying to temper my need to tell a patient that it’s not so bad and flood them with good statistics to reassure them with their need to just sit a second and take in what I said first.
Bad news is never easy to deliver, even when a patient is expecting it. I don’t really think that there is one best way to do it. I tend to vary my presentation depending on my knowledge of the patient and what I think they can handle. I was expecting this news, based on everything that I knew, but I still wasn’t instantly ready to prioritize and tier the possible types of cancer and how one was better than the other. I just needed to take in the fact that I could have cancer. That was as far as my mind could go at the moment. For me as a physician, if I know that I have to deliver bad news, I deliver the news and then I am quiet for a minute. I deliberately try to let the patient be the first one to start the next part of the conversation. I have just told them something that may soon launch them into a life-changing scenario in which they have little control. I figure that the least thing I can do is let them have control over how the conversation goes in the next few minutes. If I let them speak first before bombarding them with statistics or trying to mold how they should perceive the news, I can more clearly gauge how to tell them more and what to tell them. I think that it is really important to let them at least take control of this initial conversation. It may be the only decision that they get to concretely make for awhile. Sometimes I can’t reassure them right away. Sometimes they just aren’t ready. They are scared, angry, and confused. Sometimes you have to let them be for a minute.
I think it is tougher for my doctors to let me be for a minute. They know that I am a physician too and they figure that I can handle all the stats and details. They care almost too much because they know me. They know that I can understand the information. They know that I am interested in being my own advocate. I get all that, but sometimes it is a little too much. This time, I am the patient. I am not in charge, although I am trying to act like I am. I am putting on a brave, calm, collected face. Sometimes I think I am doing that more for others than for myself. I don’t feel very calm and collected when I am sitting in my bathtub, overreading about lymphoma and trying to give myself an anxiety attack…lol. I want to be Wonder Woman, but right now, I am just me, Laura Katz, the patient. I am waiting for news just like everybody else. I am waiting to see how my life is going to change. That will have to be good enough.
I just heard about the unexpected death of an amazing human today and it really got my wheels spinning. It made me take a step back and re-evaluate my own processing of the world around me lately and really embrace the amount of time that I have wasted with misdirected anger, emotions and the occasional dose of self-pity. I need to stop. It shouldn’t take news like this to shake me out of my own festival of wallowing. I should already know that, whatever potentially exaggerated feelings that I have about what my own life struggles, there is always something worse out there that someone else is going through. I am not saying that I spend an exorbitant amount of time feeling sorry for myself or anything, but really any time is too much time now that I think about it. Have I had some shitty things going on lately? Check. Have I had financial issues like everyone else? Have I had any health issues? Check. But, for all that, I have plenty of things to be grateful for too. I still have a job. I am still above ground. I have great kids and a great husband. I work hard and I get to see the positive effects on patients, etc etc. Like I have said many times over, I need to follow my own advice and break the proverbial chains that tie me to negativity like some sort of prisoner. All they do is hold me back and keep me from recognizing anything good when it happens. So, I am going to make myself a promise and grab those bolt cutters with both hands and make way for positivity. Who’s with me?
Have you ever noticed that when an experience ends in a sour note, our first instinct is to try to erase it’s memory as if it never existed in the first place? We attempt to block any recollection of the event as if to protect ourselves from the pain. Sometimes we go as far as to rewrite history to attempt to make ourselves feel better about the whole thing or to justify our decision in the end. I think that we do this in order to regain control and shield ourselves from the bad experience, thus taking away it’s power and impact. This is what we tell ourselves at least. However, I feel like the exact opposite is true. Every experience, good or bad, has value and a take away point. Most experiences that end badly were not truly 100% bad, or we wouldn’t have engaged with that experience to begin with. Nobody is that masochistic. I think that by expending the mental energy to rewrite history or deny any good memories that were also associated with it, we are actually granting more power to the bad part of the experience than it deserves. We are actually chaining ourselves to that negativity and becoming an essential part of the bad experience. We are discounting our own credibility in our judgement regarding what we chose to participate in. By allowing ourselves to acknowledge any positive aspects as well, we truly begin to free ourselves from that negativity and realize that, whatever the experience was, it wasn’t just a waste of our time to begin with. Have a fantastic day everybody!