A Message to My Doctor

When it came down to it, I loved her. I loved her like I had known her forever and like she was family. Because, the truth was, I had to trust her like she was. I had to place my life quite literally in her hands and believe that she had the ability to let me see my children grow up. . . that she had the knowledge and know-how to allow my life to continue past 36. I needed her to believe that she could save me. I needed her to believe that I was strong enough to endure whatever she deemed necessary to throw in my path.

I felt comforted in her presence and calmed by her demeanor and amazing bedside manner. Even when she relayed bad news, there was comfort in knowing she had already identified the problem and was prepared to take it on. Honestly, I believed with every single encounter that she had been very purposefully placed in my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

But, to be quite honest, even with my overflowing adoration, she wasn’t the person whose face I wanted to see as I attempted to fall asleep night after sleep-deprived night. I didn’t want to be able to so easily picture her sitting on that rolling stool, sharing numbers that were moving steadily in the wrong direction, in an exam room too small to hold my thoughts or my fear. Her voice wasn’t the one I wanted to hear when I recounted the words, “This isn’t good.” But, it WAS her face and her voice, and they haunted me in daylight and in darkness. Not because I feared her, but because I clung to her every word so intensely, her words were often more present in my thoughts than my own. 

I could imagine the exact pitch of her voice, the precise intonation of her words, and the cadenced pace with which she said things that she realized needed extra time to be absorbed and processed. I was flooded by the look of ever-increasing concern on her face but also consumed by the raw intensity of her desire to believe I could be saved. 

She casually conversed with my husband, supporting him fiercely as he attempted to be strong and brave in any moment that allowed his thoughts to be clear enough to do so. She knew the names and faces of my son and infant daughter. I showed pictures of them, at times, simply out of pride or for momentary distraction; but, at other times, to increase the likelihood that she might picture them as she chose each next step or bold change in course as my treatment failures multiplied.

For years, I have relived her words and seen the details of her face, just as they sounded and looked in the most terrifying of moments. She is a character in many of the most traumatic of flashbacks, but Her’s is also the smile and joy most easy to picture when I reflect on the long-awaited ending of my nightmare.

She was with me in each moment of joyful celebration, just as she was in each moment of paralyzing defeat. She helped me to figure out how to better navigate uncertainty. She taught me that “knowledge is power” and that even bad news was necessary information used to meticulously guide the next steps to be taken. She was the hand extended that, over and over, ensured I would not drown in the depths of my fear. She helped me to find a strength in myself that I am sure I would otherwise have never known.

She remains with me now, 6 years after remission was first achieved. She is in my heart, my thoughts, my prayers, and some days, in anything that exists in the spaces in between. She is the annual recipient of my family’s Christmas card, and I can’t help but think that she knows that if I could have her standing there with us, documented for all as a permanent member of the family, I would certainly do it over and over again.

I am reminded often of her role in my journey. I am reminded both as I get lost in the memories cemented into my thoughts, and as I see the many scars which mark the decisions she so meticulously made.

True, she is only one of the many people, places, and things that I believe God placed in my life and carefully wove into my story. She is only one of the extensive number of doctors, nurses, researchers, scientists, consultants, clinics, hospitals, phlebotomists, lab technicians, CT scanners, operating rooms, chemotherapies, high-tech machines, modern medicines, devoted friends, and entirely selfless family members that contributed to my survival. But, today is for her.

My doctor, my hero, my guide into an unforeseen darkness; and the light shining steadily forward as I crawled, then walked, and then ran back toward the sun.

Gretchen N.
Choriocarcinoma, In Remission


Photo courtesy of author.