When I first found Dr. Lawry Kaplan on the UCSF website, I thought he was way out of my league – internationally recognized leader for developing new lymphoma treatments and the director of the lymphoma program at UCSF were among his cancerlebrity statuses. At the time, I was about to start first-line treatment at a private hospital and things were moving fast. The tumors in my chest had collapsed my left lung and were crushing my heart to the point that I was in danger of having a heart attack if I didn’t start chemo ASAP.
I resigned myself to hang in there with the doctor at the private hospital for practical reasons, despite his horrible bedside manner and dismissiveness about my disease. He literally told me that there are worse things to have. So, at the end of those six months of first-line chemotherapy, instead of over-staying an unhappy relationship, I told my doctor at the private hospital to refer me to Dr. Kaplan at UCSF for a second opinion. It felt a little like asking the guy I was seeing to help me score a date with Lupe Fiasco right before I clip him.
But I have no regrets. You got to hustle smart if you want what’s good. I was told that without a direct referral, new patients who enter UCSF were assigned to an oncologist by their staff. I couldn’t simply pick the doctor I wanted.
I got myself ready for my first appointment with Dr. Kaplan. I wrote down my list of questions in my notebook, Cancer Stuff 2009: Volume 2, put on my lucky purple beanie, and crossed my fingers that I would be medically interesting enough for him. It worked.
I’ve been Dr. Kaplan’s patient ever since, and the vicissitudes of cancer have taken our long-term relationship through a crap ton of ups, downs, and all-arounds. I’ve sat anxiously waiting for his phone call many times, asked him to figure out whether the prednisone is making me want to kill myself in addition to making my face fat, and complained to him about not pooping for over a month. There have been times when I hung on his every word and did everything that he advised, and others when I adamantly disagreed with him to the point of walking from treatment. He’s put up with a lot from me.
Ultimately, Dr. Kaplan is the only person who can rightly validate the physical torture and emotional anguish that cancer has put me through, which makes me feel less crazy and more grateful in my moments of frustration. And I will always remember how comforting it was to see his familiar smile walk through my door during those painful hard days of medical isolation on the hospital ward.
Dr. Kaplan – thanks so much for being the world’s best oncologist! Today, I can say that I’ve had 2 ½ amazing years post cancer treatments, because of all you’ve done and continue to do for me. Plus, you’re now the longest relationship that I’ve had with a man – Happy belated Valentine’s Day!
Also, a super special thank you to my friend Jo Ann Madigan. Jo Ann has gone with me to almost every appointment with Dr. Kaplan. She’s the pretty lady who’s always inappropriately laughing with me in the waiting room, reminding me what questions to ask, and bugging Dr. Kaplan for me when I forget. Love you, Jo Ann!