Things I Never Told You(6)

By: Beth Vogt


A sharp knock on the door signaled Dr. Sartwell’s arrival.

“Come in.” With one hand holding the front of the top closed, Jillian used the other to finger-comb her hair into place. Not that her attempt mattered all that much.

“Good afternoon, Jillian.” Dr. Sartwell entered the room, her thin frame covered by a starched white lab coat, her black cat’s-eye glasses crowning her salt-and-pepper hair. She paused, head tilting to one side. “Oh. You’re in an exam gown.”

Jillian nodded. “Your medical assistant told me to change into this.”

“I’m not planning on doing an exam—unless there’s something about the biopsy site you want me to look at.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Well, I believe if we’re just talking, and if I get to have clothes on, then you get to have clothes on, too.”

“Oh, that’s all right—”

“It’s only fair. I kept you waiting, so I can wait while you change.” The doctor backed up. “I’ll give you a few minutes, okay?”

“Okay.”

In less than five minutes, Jillian sat across from her family doctor, fully clothed, the flimsy paper top tossed in the trash.

“Better?” Dr. Sartwell set her laptop on the small desk to her side, slid her glasses down, and tapped in her password to open Jillian’s chart before turning to face her again.

“Much better, at least as far as my selection of clothing goes.”

“Well, yes. But you’re not here to discuss that.”

“No.” Her short burst of laughter sounded too high. “I need you to help me figure out what’s going on. What do I do about the biopsy?”

“Like I told you on Friday night, the biopsy shows cancer.”

Cancer.

In a repeat of Friday night’s conversation, it was as if time slowed for a few moments . . . as if her hearing dulled, and she had to mentally repeat the word to process the truth.

She had cancer.

She still hadn’t spoken the two-syllable word out loud. Still hadn’t told Geoff about the phone call. Or that she’d even had a biopsy after her supposed-to-be-routine annual physical ten days ago. As long as she didn’t say anything to anyone else, she maintained a thin veneer of control on her life.

“But I’m only thirty-two. And there’s no history of breast cancer in my family—”

“I understand that, Jillian. I know that after you hear the word cancer applied to you, your brain shuts down. But we need to talk about the next steps for you to take.” Dr. Sartwell paused and then reached out and touched Jillian’s hand, her fingertips cool against her skin. “I know you didn’t expect me to find a lump during a routine breast exam. It’s a shock—and I’m sorry.”

Jillian pressed her lips together, her chin quivering. No crying. If she cried, her face would get all blotchy and people would stare at her when she left the office. She averted her gaze and blinked, once, twice, then refocused on her physician, who had the answers to her questions. “What do I do now?”

“The mammogram shows a one-centimeter lesion, which is about the size of a small grape.” Dr. Sartwell held the invisible grape between her thumb and forefinger. “I’m optimistic we caught this early. Now comes a variety of things. Blood work. A more thorough physical exam. Then we need to schedule you an appointment with a breast surgeon, who will probably recommend an MRI—”

Jillian scrambled to process everything, but one question trumped all the others. “How soon can we get this done?”

“We’ve already done your annual exam, and I can recheck a few more things today—like listening to your heart and lungs again. Then I’ll order your blood work. You can have that drawn here.” Dr. Sartwell typed something into her laptop. “I already discussed your case with Dr. Williamson, one of the top breast surgeons in town. I highly recommend her, but she’s out of town for the rest of the week, speaking at a medical conference. The soonest she could see you is a week from this Wednesday.”

Nine days.

“Is it okay to wait that long?”

“Breast cancer is not generally aggressive, and as I said, based on the initial findings, I believe we’ve caught this early. So yes, it’s fine to wait. But if you prefer, I could recommend someone else who might be able to see you sooner.”

Jillian ran her fingertips along the premade crease in her pants. “I don’t need to shop around. I trust your recommendation.”

“Fine. I’ll make sure you have Dr. Williamson’s information before you leave today so you can schedule your appointment. Is your fiancé with you? Does he have any questions to ask me?”

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