Tracie Cone has always been a trailblazer. This award-winning journalist is the former California Newspaper Executive of the Year. She shares a Pulitzer Prize with fellow staff members at the Miami Herald for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and has twice been nominated individually. She has focused her writing on helping the underdog and empowering those without a strong voice of their own. Now she takes us on the fight of her life.
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My Medical Superheroes

It was a loooong day at Stanford Tuesday and, as always, not much went according to plan. So today I’m thankful for my new oncologist, Dr. Mollick, aka Dr. Nice, and now the new nickname I have for him — Superdoc, as you’ll see in a minute.

In anticipation of a late chemo and a long day of driving for Michelle, I attempted to reschedule my early morning echocardiogram for next week, when I have to drive three hours to Stanford to meet with the surgeon who will remove my breasts. Apparently that was a bad move.

As I’ve told you before, one minimal side effect of many of the treatments I’m getting in this clinical trial is a permanent loss of some heart function. To monitor this, I get periodic heart exams.

This I knew. What I didn’t know was that Tuesday, the day I was to launch on the second half of the second and final phase of my chemo treatment, was the deadline for the echocardiogram.

So after a great meeting with the plastic surgeon who will perform my reconstruction (more on that tomorrow), I walked across the hall to see Katie, my Super Cool PA and Dr. Mollick. The exam was great. I was feeling good and for the first time could report very few complications other than one day of excruciating pain (normal) and weakness (normal). Dr. Mollick, after performing my breast exam, even said this:

“If this were a blind test, I would guess you are the patient without breast cancer!”

He has a Super way of instilling confidence, which is why I sometimes refer to him as Dr. Nice.

Then in comes Mary Chen, the nurse in charge of the trial that’s designed to stop a recurrence of my recurring type of breast cancer (more news on the trial at the end of this, too.) Mary said that without the echocardiogram, I could not proceed with my treatment. That meant no chemo for me, and no Lapatinib pills to make it work better.

Boy was I pissed. My healthcare team was incredulous. I had received an echocardiogram when I was hospitalized that actually showed my heart strength increasing. Apparently that one was too many weeks past to satisfy FDA’s strict requirements (why are they so strict about this, but so lax on monitoring substances in food that CAUSE cancer? Read about bovine growth hormones, for one)

A panic set in as we wondered how to get an echocardiogram in less than an hour when I had been told the previous day that the earliest appointment was three weeks out. Mary left the room and came back saying they could squeeze me in at 8 a.m. Wednesday. That would mean a night in a $250 Palo Alto hotel, dogs unfed and Michelle out of work for another full day. Our hearts sank.

Then Super Dr. Mollick went to work. He sent me upstairs to the infusion room to move forward with the blood tests necessary to check my liver and red and while blood cells before I could receive the Taxatere.

Then he went to work on the phones.

There are many reasons my medical team at Stanford are my Superheroes, and one is that my oncologists, Dr. Carlson and Dr. Mollick, are also PhDs. It means they not only have gone to medical school, but have endured years of grad school as well. They treat patients, but also do research to find cancer cures and teach the next generations of cancer researchers and caregivers. Along the way many go into massive debt to help save our lives. I’m with Dr. Mollick now because Dr. Carlson traveled to Africa to help improve breast cancer prevention and treatment there. Super Cool.

As I sat in the infusion recliner, my heart was pounding. Could they get me in? Would Mary really withhold my treatment (she told me later that she would have to because missing a test could jeopardize the license of the oncologist in charge of the study).

After several long minutes the privacy curtain around my chair flung open. There stood Dr. Mollick, grinning. (mind you it’s 2 p.m. – the middle of his busy office hours) Let’s go, he said, echo will take you now but we have to get you there immediately and it’s a 10-to-12 minute walk to the hospital. Can you ride on the back of my Segway?

Did my ears hear right? “Seriously?” I asked.

I’ve never been on one of those stand-up personal transport devices. And I didn’t think they carried passengers! They move by balance. You lean forward to go forward, and lean back to stop or move backward. I’ve never seen one up close.

The nurse quickly unhooked me from the blood draw apparatus and off we dashed through the Cancer Center. Michelle and Bryan were waiting outside.

“Quick, get your camera phones out. I’m going to ride on a Segway.” Naturally, they thought it was Chemo Brain talking and ignored me (see last post).

Outside the backdoor of the Cancer Center, Dr. Mollick, dressed in his white lab coat, hopped on his awaiting Segway, and scooted his feet to the front to allow room for me to stand.

As I nervously put him in a bear hug from behind, off we zoomed as he lamented: “You know, we’re breaking at least three rules.”

“No helmets?” I guessed.

“That’s one,” he said. “And you’re not supposed to ride double. And doctors aren’t supposed to give patients rides.”

“So I can’t write about this on my blog?” I asked, sadly, because I was already anticipating telling everybody about the experience.

“Of course you can!” he said.

Dr. Mollick even ran me into the echo lab so that the nurses would put me at the front of the line!

Despite missing a good photo opp, Bryan had this observation as my Superhero doctor and I rode off into the glaring sun.

With his white lab coat fluttering in the breeze, whipped up by our blistering 12 mph speed, Bry had a vision about this struggling journalist and the doctor who goes out of his way to make the journey a little easier.

“You looked like Lois Lane being whisked away on the back of Superman,” Bryan said.

And that’s how Dr. Mollick became my Superhero, “Superdoc.”

Then-President George Bush falling off a Segway. Our ride was less eventful.

Until I find a better photo of Dr. Mollick, this one will do. Hahaha.

UPDATE ON MY TRIAL: Mary Chen, the Super efficient monitor of my clinical trial, told me yesterday that they had closed the trial with just 21 patients in it. In other words, no new patients are being admitted.

I am patient 21!

The reason: It is so successful they are getting ready to write up their results so that other research hospitals across the country can implement the trial and make it available to other women with HER2 positive breast cancer.

That’s Super Good News.

6 Responses to “My Medical Superheroes”

  • Cindy Frye:

    I have not seen a single patient riding a segway in Charlotte while receiving chemo….you California people….you go GIRL. Pound, pound, pound Tracie

  • Elaine H.:

    That must have been some sight…Superdoc Mollick and #21 Tracie “Lois Lane” Cone Segwaying down the street. Who needs a picture… your words are all we need.
    No helmet,doubled up,and you were worried about your blog. That’s a writer for you!

  • Michelle:

    Super Dr. Mollick is our Doctor McDreamy!!!!

  • Sue:

    I’m giddy for you! I now have more respect for the Segway. Last time I saw them was a group of tourists in St. Petersburg, FL. It was a hilarious scene.
    Hey, I’ll bet you could find your Segway in a parking lot! ;)

  • Damn it Tracie, I have a meeting in 10 minutes and I now have tears dripping down my face. You kick ass girl! Michelle too!

  • IVE:

    Hey Tracie! My best to you…I am learning so much from you,you are courageous, I respect YOU!

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