Denim Day: A fight against breast cancer

This is to document our surgical clinic's participation in the fight against breast cancer by supporting Lee National Denim Day on Friday, October 6. Give $5, wear denim and a pink bow lapel pin to work, and support the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Women's Cancer Programs.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Swimming in materials!

Good news: an attorney, pharmacy, a realty office, and a nephrologist and several patients will be supporting Denim Day! (And a big high five to our favorite patient, her husband and her father.... hang in there, we'll get you through this).

In our office, we have patients with all sorts of needs. It's a big range, from hernias, hemorrhoids to cancers that vary from pancreatic to breast. The cancer patients are our favorites. I'd trade ten gallstone patients for a cancer patient anyday. Facing operations and chemo, they tend to get their priorities straight. They're grateful, they say thank you. They love God, family, friends and their doctors, usually in that order. Cancer tends to strip all the frippery away that they used to worry about. They just want to get well, they just want to know what's next, how to manage their new situation.

One of the areas we've recently beefed up has been our literature. We have materials about about diet, breast cancer, cancer support groups in the lobby and exam rooms. We put them into the exam rooms because some people might not feel comfortable grabbing something about cancer in the lobby in front of total strangers.

I called the American Cancer Society and ordered some 'brochures.' The clerk on the phone was so enthusiastic and he had lots of suggestions. Thinking they'd be thin little brochures, I ordered 100 of each. Little did I know that they were sending booklets! Imagine my surprise when the UPS man delivered boxes and boxes of materials! Surrounded by colorectal, breast cancer, and support group materials, I realized I didn't have space in our small office for all of them. So add to my list of duties, that of ACS unofficial ambassador. I'm giving them to other doctors offices, and even nabbed the business development director of the local hospital next door. Those of you who will remember the year I ordered 100 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, thinking my daughter could sell them in my office after school, will laugh. It's the same scenario.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sweetening the drive

More good news: three gynecologists, a pediatrician, a CPA firm and the pharmacy downstairs are participating.

If you came to our clinic, you'd be surprised. The office is tiny, though we like to think of it as "cozy." The doctor shares his office with Amy, my desk is next to a microwave and a fridge. We talk with one another by shouting back and forth. We do the work of eight: there's no float factor here, no place for sludgery. Compare us to large clinics in fancy areas like Beverly Hills, we're like David facing Goliath. But this is what it takes for a solo practioner to make it in today's healthcare field, where giants with slosh factor prevail.

So we're small, but mighty. We're serious about our work, and we have fun. Two weeks ago, we took bags of tea and cookies to the personnel at the two hospitals where our surgeon works. It's our way of saying thank you to people who make patient care possible. Schedulers, lab analysts, nurses, medical assistants, orderlies, dieticians, radiology and an entire operating room crew. Every patient will have over fifty personnel involved either directly or indirectly with their care. The patient and his or her family will never meet them all, but they are all essential to their care.

And so it came as no surprise to anyone when I walked in with bags of salt water taffy to give to the office managers here in the building where I'll be delivering new flyers today. It's our way of asking, How can you resist?

And if they're not crazy about candy, then certainly they'll certainly get a kick out of our latest flyer. Someone pointed out I misspelled "scrub." Okay, I fess up. I did. No spell check on that one, but the extra "b" looks more medical, does it not? "To scrub" is drudgery, but to wear denim scrubbs is sheer pleasure!

Friday is clinic. Another full day. We'll be wearing our pink shirts.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Zen Thing

Good news: They like the "Guess Who" flyer. We collected over $100 today. The physical therapists came through. I thought they would. They're salt of the earth.

Patients are noticing the posters of Pierce. At first they think we're Pierce-crazy. Then they find out about the fundraiser. A few have donated, we've even started an "In Honor of" and "In memory" spot in the office. Little pink slips of paper surrounding a poster of you-know-who.

Yesterday was like so many days for us, though we realize that when a patient walks through the door, it's all new to them. A new patient with a breast mass arrived early. The only problem was that she should've been at her ultrasound appointment just then. She called the radiologist, and they weren't very nice about her missed appointment. The patient looked frazzled and ready to cry. We told her not to worry, that the doctor could work around not having the ultrasound right now. Besides, we can order one STAT. Go shopping, we told her, relax, come back when it's the right time.

All new consults experience confusion, forgetfulness and anxiety. It's normal and we expect it. It's why we've turned our lobby into "the zen thing." Soft colors, wicker chairs, lamps, and soothing music. Sometimes we put in a guided meditation CD. Twenty minutes later, the entire lobby is sleeping. If we had the money, there'd be a plasma TV, showing scenery of nature, or even movies with Fred Astaire. Everything is geared to help people feel less anxious.

We also try to lighten their mood. Often we'll shout out to a patient, "Hey... how ya doin?" as we stride in to tell them why-the-doctor-is-running late, or we'll pass around a box of chocolates. It catches them off-guard, but it's who we are, though we forget this is non-standard in a medical practice. But things are different here. Patients have called our waiting area "the living room," another has said it's a practice straight out of a Robert Altman movie.

Here's a typical day: a full clinic, our kids hanging pictures or playing Nintendo when they don't have school; me --moving papers from one area to another and back again, wondering where I put them; Rosa on the computer while heating tamales she's brought us from home; Kaity Marie (everything on her desk is pink) negotiating through an insurance maze; Amy to and fro between two computers typing in codes that none of us understand. All the while, the phones are going crazy. And if we weren't busy enough: Amy and Rosa just started at the community college, I'm in the writers program at UCLA and Kaity Marie's new to the area and still finding her way around town. The "Hey how ya doin'?" really does fits the character of our office.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Perfect Excuse

With only five of us working in the office, finding donations means we have to appeal to other offices. Our office is in a five story glass building, where people scurry in and out. It's possible to work and never know who's on the floor above you. We hadn't explored much of the rest of the building, and I'm sure that none of them knew that here in Suite 330 was a surgeon with twenty years experience taking care of cancer.

Last week, I wrote a letter on letterhead to the other medical practices. Kaity Marie, Rosa, Amy and I signed it. The letter and materials were politely accepted, but no one knows who we are. There's a soft malaise in the offices, a reluctance to hop aboard without knowing us. It's clear: If I hit them up just once, they'll forget. I have to make it fun but not overwhelm them.

So this offered the perfect excuse to meet everyone, not once, but at least four times. No pleading, just give them useful information about breast cancer. I looked at the calendar. Two more weeks! Each office is going to get a poster of Pierce Brosnan this Monday and Thursday as well as the same two days next week.

Over the weekend I worked on a series of flyers, the first is posted here. Using the event materials link found on the Denim Day site, I downloaded the ad. Ah, the irish sense of humor comes through! I covered his face, except his eyes. Guess who's wearing denim, indeed! Each successive flyer of Pierce will reveal more of his face.

This is going to be fun!

Sunday, September 24, 2006


In order for me to tell you why we are involved with the Lee National Denim Day, you must understand our background.

We are a general surgery practice in a blue collar town. The surgeon was trained in surgical oncology and is considered a 'surgeon's surgeon.' The practice is a rarity -- a solo practice. Four employees, one surgeon. Often we bring our kids to work. Small, but busy. The patients? A lot of them will say when we ask how they are that they're 'just getting by.' They come from all over: San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles, Long Beach, East Los Angeles, Orange County, even from out of state. There is no shortage of the sick.

We see all sorts of cancer, but breast cancer is a cause close to our heart. Every day, we see patients with breast masses. Some lumps are benign, but many aren't and these are the women and men who hear those dreaded words, "breast cancer." How many lives are changed in the course of a visit to our office, we can't count. But we are with them through the initial biopsy, the surgery, the port placement, the post operative visits and more surgeries if they are needed. We get to know the patient, their family and their friends. We help them through their anguish, sometimes we are at the receiving end of their anger, and through it all we hope they understand that we care. The ones that hit us the hardest are the ones with a family history of breast cancer, and they have small children. Is our involvement in this campaign personal? You betcha.

The best words the doctor ever heard to describe cancer came from a patient. "Cancer's a thief," he said. "It steals your time, it steals your peace of mind, it steals your life."

Our involvement started when our front office and billing coordinator Kaity Marie brought in the packet of information about Denim Day. Kaity has many years of experience in clinics and hospitals, and she's raised money for this cause before. After looking through the materials, the decision was swift and immediate. (I must admit, having large posters of Pierce Brosnan didn't hurt either. I was especially pleased to see him as the Ambassador this year. He lost his first wife Cassie to ovarian cancer. Since then he's raised a lot of money for women's health along with his present and very lovely wife Keely). I wrote a letter to many other medical practices asking them to take part. Each office received a personal invitation from us, as well as copies of the materials sent by the Lee National Denim Day team. Note: this is ALL before noon!

We decided to take lunch and go to Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital and their Patricia L. Scheifly Breast Health Center, and spoke to Debbie, a certified prosthesis fitter, who runs the Mariposa Boutique for women who have undergone mastectomies. The shop has everything from scarves, hats, lingerie, knick knacks and camisoles to wear after the mastectomy and during the radiation treatments and breast prosthesis. Debbie took a prothesis and slapped it onto my hand. I turned it upside down, rightside up. It stuck! She showed us post-surgery camisoles with pads for post-surgery drainage, and shows us bras just for mastectomy patients. "They have very pretty matching underwear," she said. I guess it's a female thing, but a matching bra and panty really does make a woman feel prettier. We were impressed with the knowledge and commitment of the staff. Rosa, Kaity and I chose our shirts. We got one for Amy, too. "You Go Girl! is on the front with the pink breast cancer bow logo.

Even though the pink shirt isn't part of the Lee National Denim Day, we made a choice: Every Friday is breast cancer awareness day in our office. We have far too many patients with breast lumps and also cancer. It's time we showed them our support. How easy it is just by wearing denim and pink.