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July 26, 2009
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My cousin, Alyssa Ball is my guest blogger this week.  Enjoy!

    First off, the title of my story is misleading.  I couldn’t decide what to call it, and “The Big C” seemed like it might catch someone’s attention.  But it really isn’t about cancer; it is more about the receptionist in my doctor’s office than anything else.  I don’t want any readers to think this story will convey bad news or have a tear jerker ending.  So rest assured, I am fine, healthy as a horse.  So long as that horse is somewhat overweight, needs more sleep, doesn’t exercise enough, and possibly drinks too much beer.
    My adventure with cancer began with a rash.  It showed up while I was staying at a somewhat questionable bed and breakfast in San Francisco, so I was sure I had come across bedbugs or something equally delightful.  But a trip to the dermatologist informed me that I had PLEVA, which is an acronym for something I don’t remember.  Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of PLEVA either; it is a virus that shows up in an incredibly small number of particularly unlucky people for no apparent reason.  There is no surefire way to rid oneself of PLEVA, although antibiotics and steroid shots sometimes help.  My rash meant frequent trips to the dermatologist where he would tell me that the PLEVA seemed slightly better, I should come back in six more weeks, and please pay the lady on the way out.
    During this get to know your dermatologist intimately time, I discovered the cancer.  I don’t know how I spotted this little mole or why it stood out to me.  I have many moles, many freckles, and a history of many sunburns, but I am just not very good at keeping on eye on possible danger spots.  There is too much to keep track of!  Besides, in the past, when I have asked a doctor about a suspicious looking mole, I have always been brushed off and made to feel paranoid.  After the doctor patronizingly dismisses my concerns, s/he gives me the same old pamphlet that contains pictures of moles the size of quarters with jagged edges oozing pus.  Uh, yeah, if that was on my body, I’m pretty sure I would know it wasn’t good.  So I really don’t know what made the mole stand out to me; possibly divine intervention or just dumb luck.  I do know that if I wasn’t days away from a PLEVA session, I would have never made an appointment just to see the doctor about this little dot on my chest.
    When I did visit the dermatologist a few days later, I almost forgot to ask him to take a look and confirm or deny my suspicions.  We did our usual three minute, forty dollar PLEVA session and he was out the door.  Luckily, I have no self-respect and I was willing to chase him down the hall in my paper gown to get him back in the exam room.  He took a quick look, told me it was almost certainly nothing, and sliced the mole off of my body all in a matter of what seemed like seconds.  He did promise that the mole would be biopsied just in case, but he was obviously not concerned.
    So when I hadn’t heard back after a few weeks, I wasn’t concerned either.  I mean, if I had cancer, someone would have called, right?  But I am conscientious if nothing else, so I gave the doctor’s office a call, identified myself to the receptionist, and told her why I was calling.  And she said, “Ok, let’s see, soooooo, you’ve got cancer.  Hmmm…  I don’t really see what he wants to do about it, but, yep, you’ve definitely got cancer.” 
    I kid you not, that is exactly how she put it.  If only the written word was able to convey the sound of casually flipping pages in the background and the sound of chomping gum in the foreground.  Are receptionists really allowed to present information like this, and, if so, isn’t there a sensitivity training seminar or something?
    So the “you’ve got cancer” diagnosis led to an afternoon appointment of slicing and dicing during which a chunk of flesh roughly the size of a chicken breast was removed from my body.  I needed almost fifty stitches, and as for the scar, let’s just say my days as a topless model are definitely over.  I was in no way prepared for how invasive this procedure would be.  Where is the valium beforehand and the codeine afterward?
    Learning from previous experience, I knew it would be up to me to make the follow up call and confirm that my “chicken breast of flesh” didn’t contain any additional melanoma cells.  So I made the call right on schedule, got the same gum smacking receptionist and was told, “Um, ok, there is definitely something in here, but I can’t really figure out how to read it.”
    “Something in my biopsy or something in my file?” I asked. 
    “Um, yeah, I really can’t figure out how to read it, but there is definitely something in here.  The doctor is going to have to call you.”
    So, as it turns out, the something she couldn’t figure out how to read is called a report, in this case one that said I was cancer free.  But I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the three hours I spent waiting for the doctor to call and give me the news.  Did I complain to him about his receptionist?  Of course not!  Seeing as she is his wife and nepotism is alive and well in their office, I decided I probably wouldn’t get a lot of satisfaction and I just let it go.

You can read more of Alyssa's stories here:   Alyssa Ball
   
  
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