Love. It is a term that, despite its gravitas, is bandied about quite often. Too often. People love what you have done with the place. People love what you have done with your hair. People love every post of a picture of someone’s lunch or dog or kids. (Actually, many of these are just “likes” but that too has been inflated to “love” quite often.) People are even, depending on one’s religious persuasion (or lack thereof), commanded to love thy neighbor. That seems a little much. After all, what are they doing over there and how can one family make so much noise? Doesn’t anyone over there have a job?!?
Notwithstanding that love is so casually and frequently invoked, or perhaps in light of it, I must assert that I love my oncologist — No. 5, as I affectionately anonymously refer to her. My love for No. 5 is nothing weird or starry-eyed. (I am, admittedly, from Appalachia where the definition of whom one can love has historically been interpreted rather broadly, but I am not related to No. 5.) I also would not classify my love of No. 5 as platonic, by which I mean the type of love that one teenage guy with many female “friends” might be on the receiving end of despite his hopes of taking it to a more serious level. Or at least I am told this sometimes happens. Rather, it is the type of love that one feels for another who has saved his life. It is perhaps akin to the love one might feel for a firefighter who rescued that person from a burning building or a camp counselor who jumped into the lake during a swimming test, which required treading water while fully dressed – including water-logged sneakers — in ice-cold Wisconsin water for a full two minutes and that resulted in imbibing a good portion of said lake, that one was not only in danger of failing but drowning. These are just hypotheticals of course. But if it were not for No. 5, I very well might not be here typing about these events that definitely did not happen to me.
I should also note that I feel a similar love for another oncologist, No. 6. Although I did not have the same long-term relationship with No. 6 as No. 5, he too was instrumental in keeping me six feet higher. No. 6 oversaw the administration of my chemotherapy and regularly buoyed my spirits. I stopped seeing him as soon as the treatment was over, but I still have a very warm place in my heart for him. It was more of a relationship of mutual convenience – sort of a friends-with-benefits type of thing.
Despite all of this love for these invaluable doctors, it is not lost on me the irony that whenever I mention an oncologist a very disconcerting feeling washes over me. Regrettably, I cannot utter nor hear the word oncologist without my stomach turning. I feel bad about this, but it is not really my fault.
When one considers the matter, there is really no context in which one can ever mention an oncologist without it being negative. “I have to see an oncologist,” for example, means that you may well have cancer. Even this statement’s converse – “I don’t have to see the oncologist” – still reveals that something was seriously enough wrong with you that cancer came into the discussion. And more positive sounding statements are really only superficially so: “My oncologist gave me a clean bill of health.” That’s terrific, but you must have had cancer or the threat thereof at some point or you would not have an oncologist to give you such bill.
One might also wonder about statements that suggest, on their face, the value of an oncologist. “That oncologist is the best in the business.” Perhaps, but that business is basically staving off death. Or similarly, “My oncologist knows what she is doing.” That’s great; that means that she is fighting your cancer successfully – hopefully. But you still have cancer.
This problem is not necessarily unique to oncologists. For example, I would be surprised if there were many people who can utter the term “colorectal surgeon” without a twinge of discomfort (as well, perhaps, as a twinge somewhat lower). And even my dear wife’s specialty of neurology is not an uplifting one – not many of her patients are there because of something minor. They too are seeking her expertise because they have a major problem. It is, frankly, really a difference in degree: Many doctor specialists are not ones you wish to see if you can avoid it, but few deal so predominantly in death as does the oncologist.
About the only thing one can do is to use an approximate synonym for oncologist: hematologist. At least hematology covers other diseases and disorders that do not necessarily have to be cancer. But this only helps a tad: Hematology means dealing with blood. Who likes to think about blood? Unless you are a vampire or a mosquito, blood is only marginally less stomach-turning than tumors. Of course, blood can be good, as long as it is kept on your insides. When I was learning about the potential side-effects of my then-upcoming chemo, one such undesirable consequence was “unusual bleeding.” I can’t speak for everyone, but any bleeding for me is an unusual event.
Given all of this, I think I have no choice other than to accept the unresolvable conflict of the displeasure of No. 5’s profession while continuing to love her for saving my life. It’s love – it’s complicated.