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This is the last official post about my accidental mentors. I set out to write about sixty-five women and, with this post, I’ve met that goal! I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting these incredible women. I feel so blessed to share my life with them and feel even more blessed that you’ve journeyed with me through this series.
On Friday I’ll share an epilogue to the series with exciting news about what’s next. I hope you’ll stay tuned.
In 2016, after two D&Cs and related biopsies, neither of which indicated cancer, I continued to have issues with vaginal bleeding. “Let’s just take it all out,” my gynecologist Dr. Weatherford said, “so you won’t have any more problems.”
That sounded good to me. I‘d never had the opportunity to have children in my younger life. In the 1970s and 80s, when I was in my prime child-bearing years, artificial insemination wasn’t an option for lesbians. Although there were times when I wanted kids, I chose not to become pregnant in the traditional way. Now, post-menopausal, I knew that was never going to happen, so I had no problem losing organs that no longer served a purpose, especially if it would make the bleeding stop and prevent issues in the future.
The surgery went well, and I felt fine. When I received a phone call from the doctor’s office that Dr. Weatherford want to see me, I knew it might not be good news. My wife Wendy insisted that she come along. I’m grateful she did.
As soon as Dr. Weatherford entered the room, I knew my instincts were right.
“I’m going to tell you straight out,” she said, before even sitting down, “It’s cancer.”
“It is?” I said. I could feel the expression of surprise form on my face: raised eyebrows, wide eyes, open mouth, as if everything moved in slow motion. Wendy and I exchanged glances. How could it be cancer? The biopsies had come back clean. What is she talking about? Did I hear her right?
In the few seconds it took for her to sit down, my mind began spinning out of control. It took all I could to refocus my attention when Dr. Weatherford began talking again.
Much to her surprise and theirs, the pathologists who examined my uterine tissue found a malignant tumor hidden in the muscle. The biopsies missed it because it technically wasn’t in the uterus.
I could tell from the way she told me—the pained expression on her face, and the tenderness with which she explained what had happened—that the news was as heart-wrenching for her as she knew it would be to me. I loved her for that.
I felt a small sense of relief when she said the tumor was stage 1 and probably wouldn’t require chemo.
“Well, that’s something,” I said.
Dr. Weatherford referred me to Dr. Boardman, a gynecologic oncologist and colleague she’s known since medical school. “Our kids were in daycare together,” she said with a caring smile as she handed me her contact information.
“I’m sorry,” she reiterated, as we opened the door to leave.
At my first appointment, Dr. Boardman, sporting a skirt and red cowboy boots with her white medical coat, immediately recognized and acknowledged my fear. At the same time, and even more importantly, she sized up my capacity (and my wife Wendy’s) to be involved in decisions about my treatment. I could feel the tension leave my body. Not all of it, mind you, but enough to allow me to hear what she was saying.
“Typically, when we know there’s a tumor present, we’ll take a few lymph nodes to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread. Because we didn’t know the tumor was there, that didn’t happen. I would like to go back in to do that,” Dr. Boardman said. “That will tell us what we’re dealing with.
But she didn’t stop there. She outlined every other option available to me, too. At one point, she left the room and came back with charts showing various treatment choices and their potential benefits and risks. And she calmly and systematically explained each one.
“I recommend the surgery, but the decision is up to you,” she said.
A few days later, when I told her that I didn’t want another surgery, Dr. Boardman respected my decision to choose a less invasive option. Because she engendered so much trust, I knew she would not let me make a poor decision.
In the end, I had four targeted radiation treatments and then regular follow up exams to monitor how things were going. I felt supported, encouraged, and involved in every step of my treatment.
Dr. Boardman and Dr. Weatherford both taught me what to expect from a doctor, what quality of care is possible, and how to be involved in my care as an active participant rather than a bystander. I hope that anyone who faces difficult medical decisions has doctors like these two women to hold their hands.
I was fortunate to have a duo of amazing doctors during this challenging time. I’ve called Dr. Weatherford the best doctor I’ve ever had. Over my years of seeing her, she was caring, professional, and human in a way that so many doctors aren’t. She took time to interact with me not only about my health but about my life as well. As a result, I’ve always felt that she knew me better than any other doctor and that I could trust her with anything I needed to tell her.
Although my time in Dr. Boardman’s care wasn’t as long, she took the time to make sure I understood all the options available to me. At a frightening time, she didn’t only explain the details of the treatment she preferred but gave me details about all the alternatives. I felt comforted by her expertise and professionalism.
After five years with no sign of the cancer returning, I completed my care with Dr. Boardman. She referred me back to Dr. Weatherford for my ongoing gynecological care. Unfortunately, when I tried to schedule an appointment to see Dr. Weatherford again, I learned that she was retiring from her practice to work for Doctors Without Borders. I guess I can’t complain about that, but still…
Of all the women in this book, Dr. Weatherford and Dr. Boardman are among those I know the least on a personal level. However, they’ve had a monumental impact on my life. In deciding which of them to write about, I chose to include them both, even though that pushes this project past my goal of sixty-five women to sixty-six. They’re worth it.
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