A few years ago, my primary care physician retired and left his practice to a group of doctors I just didn’t care for, so I started asking around to friends and family to find a new one. My sister’s co-worker recommended one that was in my neighborhood, so I was happy to make an appointment to meet her. To be honest at our first meeting I wasn’t sure if this was going to be the doctor for me. Her office waiting room had a sign posted to be patient in waiting for your appointment, as she takes her time with each patient. That’s great! But wow, I wasn’t expecting to wait that long. As promised on her sign, she did take her time with me as well.
So, before I left my visit (I went in for a common cold), she asked me if I’d had a yearly physical. I told her, “No, I never had one.” She was taken back and said, “Let’s schedule one.” Again, in all honesty I didn’t want to. I thought it wasn’t necessary but since she was insisting, I went along with it. She made me do blood work and urine test the week before my visit, so we could discuss the results at the next visit.
Before I left the office, she noticed my persistent cough and asked how long I had it for. I told her my pulmonary doctor told me it was from my asthma, called cough variant asthma. She asked if I had a chest x-ray or CT scan. I told her many years ago but nothing recently. So also scheduled me for a chest CT scan as well.
The following week after all the tests were finished, I went back in to see her. She went over the blood work and urine test, everything was normal. However, the chest CT scan was another story. She explained to me that the radiologist noticed two nodules on each of my lungs. She explained to me the size of the nodules and that I would need to do the CT scan again in three months. At that moment, I really didn’t give it a great deal of thought and figured it was nothing. In three months, I returned to her after the scan and she explained that the nodules had increased in size. At that time, she didn’t feel comfortable continuing to wait and referred me to a pulmonary doctor, at which point, I realized it was serious.
The following week I went to see the pulmonary doctor with all my scans and reports. She referred me to the doctor I had already been seeing for quite a while, so I felt better about being able to talk with him. After almost a year of doing scans every three months, he explained to me that it was time to see a thoracic surgeon. He couldn’t be sure what it was, but what he did know was the nodules needed to be removed. He referred me to a surgeon but after visiting with him and hearing how he would need to break my ribs in order to remove the nodule, I knew I was in the wrong place. After dealing with my mom’s cancer and knowing the importance of going to the right doctor and hospital, there was no way I would be continuing with this surgeon. So, I started doing my own research and found the top thoracic surgeon in the area. Not only was he the best, the surgery could be done laparoscopically – which sounded better to me.
My surgeon explained to me because of the size of the nodule and its location on my left lung, I would need to have a lobectomy. I was very nervous and listening to him explain what he would be doing, the recovery period and the possible outcomes, I was very scared. When I asked him if he thought it was cancer, he told me, he couldn’t give me an answer until the day of the surgery. So many things were going through my mind and I felt like I had no control over anything, which left me more frustrated.
The days leading up to the surgery, I did a lot of writing, especially to my boys. I wanted them to know how much I loved them and to tell them as many things as I could think of. I am always paranoid when I’m having surgery and I didn’t want to leave anything unsaid. So, basically, I wrote letters to everyone. Maybe a little over the top, but that’s me.
The day of the surgery I tried to keep myself calm and relaxed; it was difficult. Saying goodbye to my boys in the morning, I had convinced myself I would never see them again. Dramatic, but again, that’s me. As I said goodbye to my husband and my dad, as they wheeled me into surgery, I figured that would be last time I’d see them too. A few hours later, I woke up with them both staring at me and smiling. All I could hear was the answer to the question I asked my husband… is it cancer? Yes, it was but we will know more once the lymph nodes around it were tested to see if it had spread.
I was lucky. Very lucky. I had the cancerous nodules removed and there was no sign that the cancer had spread. Because the results of the first biopsy showed it was an aggressive, non-small cell lung cancer, I had to have surgery on my right lung as well. That surgery was a wedge procedure and didn’t require taking any additional parts of my lung, thankfully. The one thing that really saved my life is my yearly physical. I had no intentions of going because I figured it was a waste of time. I was fine, there’s nothing wrong with me and I would just be doing a bunch of tests for no reason. I was so wrong. Just because I felt okay, didn’t mean I was okay.
After my surgery, I wrote a letter to my primary care doctor. I thanked her for being so thorough and insisting on not only having the physical but to investigate the persistent cough I had for years. If she didn’t push me to go for the initial CT scan, I would have never known I was walking around with cancer.
I am urging you all to consider going to your doctor and getting a yearly physical. Not to sound dramatic, but it can really save your life. I am so grateful I had a doctor that pushed me. If it wasn’t for her, I may not have been so lucky. Do yourself a favor and make the time to check in with your doctor, it’s so important to having a healthy and happy life.