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Me and the Resident: What Happens When You Meet an Oncologist in Training?


What happens when you meet an oncologist in training?

Today was my routine check-up appointment at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

I have come a long way from the days when a check-up appointment meant stress, anxiety and fear. I’d sit in the waiting room after getting my blood taken, alert, watching my nurse walk by. I would study her face each time she passed for signs of worry or pity. If she smiled at me, I’d imagine that she was being sympathetic because she had just seen my blood results, and they were really bad. If she didn’t smile at me, I’d imagine that she was so distraught about the bloodwork that she couldn’t bear to speak to me for fear of giving it away. If the doctor took a long time coming into my room, I’d imagine he was just outside the door, preparing himself for how he was going to tell me the bad news.

Those were crazy times. Now, eight fairly uneventful years later, I am happy to say that I am a lot more confident and maybe even a little carefree when it comes to getting my blood checked. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Ok. So, silly question. We all know what the worst is that could happen.

Except the worst didn’t happen today.

What did happen was that I met a resident. You know, the medical school graduate who is basically doing on-the-job training. She was a really lovely woman, possibly half my age (I am 43) who was clearly focused on making sure she covered everything.

After introducing herself, she tells me that my results are good, although there are “fluctuations” in some of the counts. "WHAT?" my brain yells. I have never heard that. Ever.

Before I go any further, I should explain how my appointments have mostly gone for eight years. I wait for doctor, doctor comes in and says everything looks good, asks if I am ok, I say yes, he says, great, see you next time, we hug and it’s over. Notwithstanding the few times there have been some minor issues, my appointments are short and sweet. And to be clear, that’s the way I like it.

So when the resident started asking questions, I was a bit caught off guard. “Have you been feeling OK?”


“So you haven’t been feeling unwell, maybe tired?”

After a slight hesitation, I told her no, but my brain was thinking, “At least I don’t think so. Have I been feeling unwell? Well, there was that time last week that my stomach hurt. I thought it was the bag of jujubes that I ate…”

“Have you had any infections lately?”

“Not that I know of.”

But again, my brain was saying, “No infections. But maybe I had one, and didn’t know it. Maybe I have one right now! Yes, I think I feel like I do! It is probably one of those rare infections, the kind that causes limbs to fall off! The kind that has no treatment…”

“Any lumps or bumps?”

I answered, with a smile, “Nope.”

But my brain was not smiling. “Lumps and bumps!! When was the last time I checked for lumps and bumps! Maybe I have the lumps and bumps! OMG, what if I have the lumps and bumps?”

“Pain when lying down?”


Brain: “Wait! I am not sure! Maybe I do! Let me lie down and check!”

“Shortness of breath?”


My brain was screaming “Yes! Yes, I do right now!”

And so it went, until my doctor walked in. Smiling, he told me everything looked good, asked if I was OK (I wasn’t sure), and gave me a hug.

Just another routine check-up.

This originally appeared on cmlnetwork.ca in July 2016.

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